A place to change


Russell Mason is a grateful client of Kwae Kii Win Centre Managed Alcohol Program (MAP) at Shelter House Thunder Bay

By Kim Latimer, North West LHIN - June 15, 2019

Russell Mason, 41, has been in and out of jail since he was 14 years old for alcohol-related offences. He was homeless for eight consecutive years, living on the streets. Kwae Kii Win Centre Managed Alcohol Program (MAP) at Shelter House Thunder Bay has been his first stable home in decades.

“I needed a place to change. I believe this is the spot. They’re doing everything they can to support me,” said Mason. He is from White Dog Reserve, 20 minutes north of Kenora. “It feels good to know that people actually care and they’re genuinely trying to help me.”

Mason suffers from multiple severe brain injuries and was a former patient of Brain Injury Services of Northern Ontario (BISNO). When he couldn’t stay sober, he decided to leave the program’s residence but continues to be followed by a Brain Injury Services of Northern Ontario support worker. He has also been in and out of several local detox programs.

“I found their program [BISNO] to be helpful but I wanted to drink all of the time. I needed a place to change because I was always drinking and [BISNO] helped me find this place, so I moved here. Here they control your alcohol and I needed that bit of alcohol to get me through the day.”

“I was really addicted to Ba-Bash,” he said. Ba-Bash is the street term for non-palatable alcohol like hand-sanitizers, hairspray and mouthwash. Mason was drinking mainly hand sanitizer prior to joining the Managed Alcohol Program at Shelter House.

Under the program, Mason receives six ounces of white wine every 90 minutes and he must be there and be monitored 60 minutes before each dose. Managed Alcohol Program is a partnership with NorWest Community Health Centre, St. Joseph’s Care Group, Shelter House and Brain Injury Services of Northern Ontario.

Since participating in the Managed Alcohol Program, Mason’s addiction to hand sanitizer has been drastically reduced, says Cori Bannon, the program coordinator and social worker at Kwae Kii Win Centre at Shelter House Thunder Bay. She’s known Mason for over a year.

“Russell has had a different program in place because he’s had a few severe brain injuries and symptoms that include short term memory loss. He was really addicted to hand sanitizer when he came here and he hasn’t done that in many months, and that’s a huge success for him. He has remembered to say ‘No’ to that when he is offered it on the streets and his health is improving. He is eating.”

Mason has been part of the Managed Alcohol Program for two years. “I feel comfortable, I feel happy. It does make me happy to feel that I’m alive,” he says.

Since living at Kwae Kii Win Centre as part of Managed Alcohol Program, Mason has started to create works of art – mostly paintings featuring wilderness landscapes and images of wildlife, including eagles in traditional medicine wheel colours - red, yellow, white and black. 

“It makes me feel at ease, calming and there’s no expectation. I feel happy. I want to go back to art school. I want to take an art course at a community college.”

Mason is also picking up volunteer shifts in the community. “One of the benefits of this place is that I’m working on Fridays. I volunteer at the Dew Drop [soup kitchen] and at the Regional Food Distribution Association. On Mondays, I work out with Ken [BISNO support worker] at Fit-For-Less.”

“Physically, I feel strong and I feel motivated to do better in the community. I feel like I help out the elders here by doing laundry and cooking, or cleaning up the house. I’m more than willing to help them,” said Mason as he finished a load of laundry for another member of the house. “I have respect for my elders.”

He’s also experiencing far fewer police interactions since he joined the Managed Alcohol Program. In fact, Mason recently received notice that his probation will end on July 10, 2019.

“This has never happened in his adult life when he has seen the end of probation without breaching. He always breaches because of alcohol related things and he has done so well,” says Bannon. “He’s not been arrested once in the past year. That is a huge win for him and for us.”

“It feels good that I’m not just being pushed aside,” Mason says, “Staff are always willing to listen.”

To learn more about Managed Alcohol Program (MAP) and adult addiction support services contact NorWest Community Health Centre 807-622-8235. In Kenora, contact the Morningstar Centre at Lake of the Woods District Hospital at 807-468-5749. (807)

The Managed Alcohol Program receives funding from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The Kwae Kii Win Centre for Managed Alcohol Program at Shelter House is a 15-bed program. It is operated in partnership with St. Joseph’s Care Group, NorWest Community Health Centre, and Brain Injury Services of Northern Ontario. There are two funded Managed Alcohol Programs in the Northwest in Kenora and Thunder Bay.

The program’s mandate is to provide supportive housing paired with harm reduction strategies to reduce alcohol dependence and to reduce contacts with police and emergency health services related to alcoholism.

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