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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

VIHA’s Response for Victoria’s At-Risk Population

George Lowery

Reprinted from "Alcohol" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 2 (9), p. 39

Frederick has lost his wallet again. He knows that he had it with him when he left this morning, but somebody must have stolen it from him today. His dad had made him that wallet, and he sure was sad about losing it.

Frederick told staff at the Sobering and Assessment Centre (SAC) this story when he checked in for the night. He was drunk, but that is the expectation of anyone coming to SAC’s door for a bed. Frederick also had some fresh cuts on his face and there was a new bruise on his forehead. SAC staff empathized with Frederick about the loss of his wallet, while the nurse tended to his fresh wounds and assessed him for further injuries. Frederick couldn’t remember how he got hurt, but thought he might have fallen.

Frederick is well known to Sobering and Assessment Centre staff. He is 52 years old. He has been a regular client for some time. For as long as he has been a SAC client, Frederick has never had a wallet like the one he describes on this night. It has only been in recent weeks that he has started talking about his missing wallet; how he always has it in the morning, but loses it during his day’s adventures. He isn’t always sure of the time, or date, or which city he is in. He has also been falling a lot more than he used to.

SAC staff suggest that it is time for Frederick to consider detoxification. Frederick agrees, and when he wakes the next morning, he is transferred to the detox unit down the hall.

Frederick is eventually diagnosed with Korsakoff’s disorder—a mental illness involving severe confusion and memory impairment, which is associated with longterm use of alcohol. He will be transferred to a supported living unit, where he will finally be off the streets.

Frederick is not a typical client at the Sobering and Assessment Centre, but he is also far from a rarity. Frederick is merely one of the many addicted individuals who access the centre for a safe, dry and warm sleep, and for a chance to clean up and be checked medically. SAC clients know that they won’t be judged and will be welcomed in whatever condition they are in. They will have a chance to do their laundry, have a shower and maybe even talk about what they can do to get counselling or detox services.

The Sobering and Assessment Centre is an important part of the continuum of care for clients dealing with addictions within the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA).1 It is one of the entry points for these clients into the system if they choose to exercise that option.

In Victoria, SAC is the only community resource that provides shelter for clients who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Because of this, the centre has the opportunity few other points of entry have—to make changes in clients’ perceptions of their habits. SAC staff see their clientele over a length of time and build relationships with them. Clients are assessed during this time, and are monitored for changes in their physical, mental and emotional health. SAC staff then work with individuals to help them make appropriate choices - something staff are able to do because of the trusting relationship that has been built with clients.

SAC staff are trained to educate clients about community resources that are available, but to do so only at a client's request. The staff know that it is a client's choice to enter recoverty; when clients are ready, staff are prepared to assist them with information and guidance.

In Victoria, SAC is the only community resource that provides shelter for clients who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Because of this, the centre has the opportunity few others points of entry have - to make changes in clients' perceptions of their habits.

VIHA's Sobering and Assessment Centre in Victoria is unique because of its ability to act quickly once a client has made the decision to enter recovery. The Victoria Detox is physically attached to the SAC facility. Also located in the building is Pembroke Place, a longer-stay stabilization unit. Alcohol and Drug Services, which offers outpatient counselling and group work for recovery, is within a 10-minute walk away. This concentration of resources has proven to be invaluable for helping clients move through the stages of recovery when the are ready. If clients choose to continue their current lifestyle, they can do so. knowing they will receive non judgemental care of SAC.

Fredericks story is an excellent example of the help the Sobering and Assessment Centre can provide. The sense of safety and dignity that SAC staff provides for clients is very important. The ultimate goal is that through their interactions with clients, SAC staff empower these clients to make their own choices.

VIHA's Sobering and Assessment Centre (SAC) is located at 1125 Pembroke Street in Victoria and can be contacted by phone at 250-213-4444.

About the Author

George is Acting Coordinator of the Victoria Withdrawal Management Services, which encompasses Victoria Detox and the Sobering and Assessment Centre

  1. Vancouver Island Health Authority. (2004, February 24). VIHA opens new Withdrawal Management Services (news release). Retrieved from

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