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Saskatoon's Wellness Centre: Strict rules ensure safety, staff earn positive feedback

A cultural support staff helps de-escalate certain situations
Emergency Wellness Centre cultural support staff Lanny Macdonald and acting team leader Krista Reid listen to instructions given by Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand.

SASKATOON — Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand says he is proud to say there are positive changes happening for some of the “relatives” currently staying at the Emergency Wellness Centre in the 28 days it has been operating.

Arcand, during a media conference at the centre Wednesday afternoon, said they are committed to helping relatives get past their addiction and mental health problems and be back on their feet. The term relative is used at the centre rather than client to make those who are using the services more comfortable and feel like they are part of a family.

“This is a tough job. For the community to think that we’ve opened up a spa or a nice place to deal with all this, they’re wrong. [Working] in this place is hard, it’s a tough job. There’s only, in my view, certain people that can do this work because we’re dealing with the hardest of the hardest,” said Arcand.

“And we’ve seen it. We have to make some tough decisions about individuals being asked to leave because they’re not following the rules or [thinking of] the safety of themselves, the kids or the staff. We’re talking serious mental health issues that nobody should be going through. But, if they can’t follow these simple rules, they’re going to make a choice when they come back.”

Some of the rules they implemented at the centre are no consumption of alcohol or drugs and no smoking while inside the facility, but they are going to accept intoxicated individuals as long as there’s still room to stay.

Arcand said all personal belongings of those who are going to stay must be left in bins located in a room near the lobby and reception area.

“They got to take off all their jackets. Their safety is big here. They like how our staff are treating them because they [call] them by their first names. The simplest thing is to de-escalate and just keep moving in a positive direction. So, people have said that they feel this is a safe place, especially the women said it’s the safest they felt in a long time,” said Arcand.

He added that the centre’s staff, like Krista Reid and Lanny Macdonald, make it a point to interact with the relatives and help de-escalate certain disagreements that may arise. Reid is the current acting team leader and has 15 years experience working in temporary shelter facilities while Macdonald provides cultural support.

“We provide cigarettes, tobacco, for people who don’t have smokes because they can’t afford it. It’s kind of like a de-escalation tool to build trust and keep moving in a positive situation,” said Arcand.

Reid said the relatives have given all the staff positive feedback and have been appreciative of the work they do at the centre.

“They’ve been respectful of the rules that we’ve laid out. We do have some minor issues, mainly when it comes to substance abuse. For the most part, they’ve been very grateful to be here, and it’s nice to see that they can feel safe and are willing to open up to us, tell us those things that allow us to help them help themselves,” said Reid.

“One feedback that I heard, just this [Wednesday] morning because we give cigarettes on a daily basis, and we asked them to say something positive, one wrote that this is by far the best shelter you’ve ever seen. Our cultural support group, they can’t get that anywhere and that speaks for itself,” added Macdonald.

Macdonald said a lot of people staying at the centre appreciate the room where one can smudge, a rite practiced by Indigenous Peoples where they burn sacred herbs.

“Whenever there’s a stressful situation, I’ll go in the room and we smudge. Everything and everyone calm(s) down. It just sets up a fire inside them to take a second and regroup. It makes a huge shift of the situation,” added Reid.

Arcand said Macdonald also helped de-escalate another situation where some relatives were arguing inside the waiting room.

“There’s been some altercation and arguing, but what [Macdonald] he’ll do is pick up his drum and start drumming and singing. It just de-escalates and everybody’s going to have a conversation about what’s going on ... Lanny is a bit humble but he should be proud of what he’s doing here,” said Arcand.