Health Fitness

This man wants to stop drinking but is struggling to get into rehab without a fixed address

Davy Short is afraid he’s going to die, either from the alcohol or the elements, or some combination of both.  

The St. John’s man, homeless since September, says alcoholism is ruining his life. But while drinking has made it difficult to maintain housing, his lack of housing has made it difficult to get treatment for his drinking. 

Short is on a wait-list to go to an in-patient rehabilitation program in nearby Harbour Grace but has been told he can’t get in without a permanent address to be released to when it’s over.

The conundrum has left Short feeling like he’s stuck in a gap somewhere between health care and housing, slipping through the cracks of two parallel systems under tremendous pressure amid a housing crisis. 

“I’m trying to better my life and that’s all I want to do,” Short said. “When you’re outside and hopping from couch to couch, it’s depressing. It’s getting to me right now. I’m about to break down here right now, because it’s not right.”

WATCH I Davy Short just wants a ‘normal life’:

He can’t get into rehab without an address. He can’t keep an address without rehab

Davy Short says he just wants to get sober, but first he needs to get off the street. Short has been homeless for months, and says he can’t get into alcohol rehab without a place to live when the program ends.

Go to detox, lose your bed

Short’s road to recovery has many obstacles, with some of the biggest hurdles being policies within the housing and health-care systems. 

He was one of the first people to move into a tent encampment outside Confederation Building in St. John’s in October. The encampment doubled as a protest, with many of its residents being fed up with the conditions within the province’s emergency shelter system.

After a storm destroyed several tents on the hill, residents took a deal to move into shelters around St. John’s that were supposed to have been cleaned and inspected. Instead, Short said, they arrived to find rodent-infested shelters with open drug use. The premier later called the situation “unacceptable” and “troubling.”

The next day, Short and others were moved to the Riverwalk Hotel in Mount Pearl, where he stayed for two months.

With his alcoholism worsening, Short went to the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation in December and asked for his own place so he could get away from others in active addiction.

Leah Mallory — a volunteer who helps homeless people with everything from food to housing applications — remembers that meeting. 

A woman with blonde hair and a black jacket.
Leah Mallory started volunteering to help those living at the tent encampment in October and has been helping Short navigate the system ever since. (Mike Simms/CBC)

“He was pleading with them, ‘I need my own place. I’m an alcoholic, I need help,'” she said. “I turned to him and said, ‘Do you want me to take you to detox?’ The woman there said, ‘Nope. You go to rehab, you lose your spot.'”

Short went to a detox centre a week later. When he got out after six days, his hotel room had been given away and he was homeless again.

“You’re taking a man that’s trying to save himself and putting him back on the street. Well, you know what’s going to happen.”

CBC News met with Short the day after he got out of detox. He had already relapsed. He said he was offered a spot in a different shelter but felt safer sleeping outside or couch surfing.

An NLHC spokesperson said they try to work with clients to get them to their preferred locations, but beds are allocated on a nightly basis.

“Due to the demand for shelter services, if an individual leaves a shelter for any reason, that bed is redirected to another individual who needs it,” said Marc Budgell.

Rehab tricky without permanent address

When CBC News first spoke with Short, he was upset about losing his room at Riverwalk, but took solace in the belief he was going to rehab within a few weeks. 

The next day, Mallory said they were informed Short couldn’t get into rehab until he had a fixed address. 

Short was devastated.

“I want to get off the booze and I’ve been trying with my heart and soul to do it,” he said. “I’m up on the top of the list now to get out there [to rehab], but if I don’t have a place to live after rehab, they won’t take me.”

He spent the next few days panhandling around Ropewalk Plaza and waiting for a bed to open at the detox centre so he could get clean again.

“Every time I come here panhandling, I’m just getting enough money to get a couple beers so I can get through the day.”

The Grace Centre is operated by N.L. Health Services, which said it requests a fixed address as part of the standard admission criteria to help with follow-up care when a person is finished the program.

Spokesperson Mikaela Etchegary said the health authority will work with clients to help them connect with housing supports in the community. She said the Grace Centre will accept referrals without a fixed address, but encourages patients to get their housing plans in order while they’re on the waiting list.

Short has been trying to get a housing plan for months but still has no idea when he’ll get something to call a fixed address.

“He’s stuck in this cycle of homelessness and trying to help himself,” Mallory said. “He needs a home.”

Hope lies with new units in Pleasantville

The provincial government held a news conference Monday to highlight eight new housing units in the Pleasantville neighbourhood of St. John’s.

One person has been living there for the past month, while the other seven units have remained empty. Mallory said she’s been trying to get Short into one of the units for weeks, to no avail. 

The exterior of a red home.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation has opened eight new affordable units in the Pleasantville area. This unit, along with the others, are ready to move into, with plans to build another 32 units on Janeway Place in the works. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Short crashed on the couch at the one occupied unit earlier this week and hopes he can soon call one of the neighbouring units home.

“All Davy wants is a quiet place to come home, lock his door and work on his sobriety,” she said. “He’s not asking for a mansion.”

Short got into the detox centre again Tuesday afternoon, giving him a safe place to sleep and stay sober for five nights. He plans to check himself out on Thursday, however, because a bed became available at the Wiseman Centre. Mallory said they couldn’t hold the bed, so he had to leave detox early in order to get it.

“In order for me to get stability in my life, I just need a place to live after I get out of rehab,” Short said.

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