Montreal is set to join other Canadian cities in offering a space where homeless people suffering from alcoholism can drink in a controlled environment.
The so-called "wet shelter" is part of a three-year, $7.8-million plan the city announced Wednesday to help its homeless population.
There is also a goal of building about 950 social housing units designed to help low-income people and others get off -- and stay off -- the street.
Serge Lareault, the city's commissioner for the homeless, said the $7.8 million will be distributed to different community organizations that offer varying services to people who sleep outside.
The plan to build 950 housing units is an "objective," he said, and the budget still needs to be negotiated with other levels of government.
Lareault said the wet shelter will be a pilot project modelled after similar centres in Europe, Australia and in Ottawa, where an alcohol-management program has been in place for 16 years.
Ottawa's downtown program offers 24 beds and a service where the homeless can receive "15 pours" of white wine made in-house, between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. every day, says Ray Macquatt, who manages another Ottawa facility called The Oaks.
The Oaks is wait-list only and has roughly 60 residents, with about 45 of them receiving an amount of white wine, tailored to their needs, 15 times a day, according to Macquatt. The centre serves up to 77 ounces, per day, per patient.
"The idea is not to get people intoxicated but to keep them stabilized and not to have them go in withdrawal," he said.
Montreal conducted a census in 2015 of people living on the street, Lareault explained, and discovered that about 500 people sleep outside every night, with the vast majority having an alcohol, drug or mental health problem.
Due to their diseases or other issues, "they told us they couldn't stay inside a shelter overnight," Lareault said. "They need a place adapted to their condition."
Rosannie Filato, the Montreal city executive committee member who is responsible for social development, said a study is being conducted with the provincial government to put in place a wet shelter pilot project by 2019.
It's unclear whether Montreal will have a wet day centre, or an overnight shelter with a certain number of beds.
"The goal is to see what the need is (first)," she said.
Macquatt's advice is to ensure Montreal's centre has proper health services. The Oaks is a partnership with Ottawa's Inner City Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association.
A nurse is on hand 40 hours a week and others are on call 24 hours a day, he said.
"Another important factor is to have a stable environment where (you) can build a community," he said. "It's one big family here and we have consistent staff who know the residents."
Toronto has two shelters that offer managed-alcohol programs.
The Annex Harm Reduction Program is part of Toronto's Seaton House, the city's largest men's shelter where 80 of 540 beds are dedicated to helping homeless alcoholics manage their drinking.
Patricia Anderson of Toronto's housing administration said in an email that patients "typically have lived on the street for a long time and need help because of alcohol addiction and other serious illnesses."
"Alcohol intake is closely monitored by staff and there are specific guidelines about amounts and times," she said.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said her strategy is focused around four themes, including helping homeless people integrate better in public spaces and the subway system as well as giving more resources to shelters.
She also wants to build more housing units for the homeless and raise awareness among the public and in the judicial system about the realities of people living on the street.
Plante said her plan is ambitious and its goal is to reach people across the city who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.