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Interview with John Tessier

Provided is the full conversation that the Daily had with John Tessier, an intervention worker at Open Door Montreal, for our November 4 editorial, Sensitive Coverage, Accessible Support. A full transcript of the conversation can be read is below.

John [00:00:5] John speaking, Open Door.

Amy [00:00:10] Hi, this is Amy from The Daily.

John [00:00:12] Hi Amy, how are you?

Amy [00:00:13] Im great, thank you. How are you?

John [00:00:16] I’m good, thanks.

Amy [00:00:17] So firstly, I just want to clarify before [we start] anything, so the wet shelter program is that at Open Door or at another shelter?

John [00:00:27] No, essentially that has nothing to do with us. The reason why some people have been asking my opinion is just because we are one of the few places that allow in intoxicated people. We have advocated to get a wet shelter in Montreal in the past, but we are not affiliated with the wet shelter that is going to be opening in anyway.

Amy [00:50] OK, well, we can still talk about the shelter and why it’s important. So firstly, what is a wet shelter?

John [00:01:00] Wet shelter is basically where people can come in and administer relatively small amounts of alcohol just to keep them from experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Amy [00:01:15] And what are the greatest misconceptions or conclusions people jump to when first learning about what? Shelters?

John [00:01:24] Well, I think a lot of people assume it’s a place for like an open bar where you’re just come in and are given free alcohol, and people are going there basically to drink and get drunk and have a party…Basically a place of compassion because many people are unable to stop drinking for an entire eight hours overnight without experiencing in some cases very severe withdrawal symptoms. Some people have to drink every two or three hours, otherwise they’ll shaking, possibly convulsing, throwing up, incompetent and things like that.

Amy [00:02:10] How does this perception of addiction, like, affect those facing homelessness and how does it, you know, like hinder them from getting support?

John [00:02:21] Well a lot of people just assume that if you’re homeless it’s cause you’re lazy or it’s always your own making, but many people have experienced cultural traumas or generational trauma and violence that goes back generations. Some people just have a drinking problem that got out of hand. And now they’re unable to stop and many people would like to stop. But there aren’t always the resources available for them to have that support and […] to help them stop. Well, a lot of people look down on the homeless or the addicted person and it think it’s their own choice. But oftentimes not.

Amy [00:03:14] So the open door doesn’t provide the wet shelter. But what what facility does? John [00:03:20] Well, we’re not […] I don’t know what organizations are the ones doing the wet


Amy [00:03:27] So open door allows intoxicated individuals into the shelter. I didn’t know this, so I’m just asking, is that not usually protocol?

John [00:03:38] No, almost nowhere else will allow you in if you’ve been drinking that day. Amy [00:03:47] Really? Why is that?

John [00:03:49] If you’re visibly intoxicated most places won’t let you in and some places will not let you in if you tell them if you drank at all that day. Basically, I would assume it’s a liability issue. They’re afraid that people will get out of hand, and of course, people drinking loose their inhibitions. It’s one of the first things that happens. There is the potential for problems, but we understand here, we try to be compassionate and understand that not everybody is choosing to drink but people have to drink to not get sick and they have to have somewhere to go […] Its also an opportunity for us to help them, to support them if they do want to get better […]I was able to bring 42 people to rehab a few times last year and if we didn’t let an intoxicated people that number would have been much lower.

Amy [00:04:55] And what inspired you to work for Open Door?

John [00:05:01] Well five years ago, I was a client of Open Door. I was homeless, I had a drug addiction it caused me to loose my apartment. I would use the Open Door. When I got sober, I went back to do community service there, here at the Open Door and a job opened up […] I decided I wanted to try to help people, give them the same support that I was given when I was struggling, and I want to be an example for others that there is a legitimately chance at recovery and I just wanted to be able to give back.

Amy [00:05:340] When going through rehabilitation, withdrawal is part of the process. Why is this not always an option for people who are facing homelessness?

John [00:05:52] Well because you can die from alcohol withdrawal. If you’re not medically detoxed, alcohol is one of the very, its one of of the few substances that actually can die [from]. It’s very, very dangerous just stop drinking cold turkey. No one would every recommend, no medical professional cause you can die […] It’s harder and harder to get people into rehab nowadays because of the liability where rehabs are afraid to take people in unless they’ve been medically detoxed first. When I tried bring [people] to rehab two years ago, if they drank two or three beers a day, like the big one 1.81 L, let’s say three cans of beer. If you drank two or three a day, a couple of years ago, you’ll get into a rehab. Now, if you drink more than one you can’t get into a rehab unless you’ve been medically detoxed. Perhaps there were some things that happened in Quebec that made rehabs afraid, perhaps some issues, but now you have to detox . The problem with that is some arduous process to get into a medical detox. It takes up to two weeks. It’s just unrealistic for anyone who’s homeless. It’s hard enough if you’re a soccer mom who drinks a bottle of wine a day and wants to cut down to a bottle on the weekend. It’s hard enough to make [those] appointments and show up when you’re supposed to. But if you’re homeless, it’s virtually impossible.

Amy [00:07:22] In the news, there’s been some coverage on the conflicts going on an Open Door. Why is it important for the Montreal community to continue supporting Open Door support?

John [00:07:32] It’s important because we are one of the places that will support people throughout the entire journey. There’s rehabs, there’s detox, there’s our day shelters…because of my experience and because I’ve been through it all, I’ll bring someone from there to a medical detox, I’ll bring from the detox to the rehab. Yesterday, I picked somebody up from prison, argued [with the] prison and brought them to rehab. And once they’re getting out rehab, I’ll give people my number and bring people to 12 step fellowship meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous or whatever it is they need. So we really support people and help them get into a reinsertion centre after rehab because it is really important that they don’t just go back to the street [instead] that they get back to a safe environment when you’re first getting out of rehab. So I’m able to support people and were able to support people throughout the entire process[…]

Amy [00:08:32] And lastly, in this coverage, a lot of the character characterization of people facing homelessness was kind of violent and made them seem erratic. Why is this coverage on people facing homelessness problematic?

John [00:08:48] Well I just find it’s not true. Most of the people we encounter […] are just struggling and in pain. Sometimes when people are in pain, if we’re not understanding the type of pain that they’re in, we may mischaracterize them […] it’s just not a true perception.

Amy [00:9:16] Well, thank you so much for talking with us.