Here are some tips for creating welcoming services for those that use alcohol and/or drugs.

Some people avoid or stop using health and social services because they are made to feel unwelcome due to their substance use. Strategies to help create more welcoming and supportive services include changes to:

  • Tone and approach
  • Physical environment
  • Programs and services
  • Information and resources
  • Staffing
  • Policies

The tone you set at the door creates a first impression. Ensure your clients feel immediately welcome.

  • Have someone who reflects the community being served as the first point of contact (e.g., peer worker).
  • Post signs and posters that reflect the approach of the organization – “This is a welcoming, non-judgmental space” -“Positive Space,” etc.

The physical environment you present helps make a client feel welcome. Create an environment that feels safe and comfortable rather than cold and clinical.

  • Paint and add art work to walls.  Use rugs or carpets to warm up concrete floors.
  • Use “warm” lighting options (i.e., not fluorescent).
  • Showcase photographs and client art work.
  • Add flowers and plants, which can also improve air quality.
  • Provide a space for personal belongings (coats, boots).
  • Let people know they are free to get comfortable.
  • Offer refreshments – a cup of tea or a snack.
  • Put out a basket of goodies – safe sex supplies, razors, matches, shampoos, lotion, snacks, etc.

Foster a sense of belonging to help increase connections and reduce isolation.

  • Create a community space. Invite people to add to the space – to take and bring what they think might be of interest or helpful to others.
  • Invite conversation about people’s hopes and values for their community – stories of how they participate and contribute to their community.

Welcoming and supportive services are responsive. They should reflect and meet the needs of the people being served.

  • Provide service hours that meet client needs.
  • Offer child care.
  • Provide transportation assistance.
  • Accompany people to appointments.
  • Follow-up on referrals.
  • Offer after-hours support and a friendly outgoing phone message.

Create information boards with relevant resources.

  • Post information about peer work, housing, harm reduction and safe sex resources, counselling and support, social justice events, etc.
  • Provide “know your rights” resources.
  • Offer to make photocopies.
  • Encourage clients to take anything they, their friends or families may be interested in.
  • Offer information in multiple languages.

Staff should reflect and support the diverse needs of people using your services.

  • Hire staff who represent the diversity of people you serve, including people who use substances. Resource: Harm Reduction at Work
  • Employ and support peer workers. Integrate peer workers into the staff and agency culture (e.g., attends staff meetings, provide supervision and training).

Organizational policies and procedures should ensure a zero tolerance for discrimination and promote non-judgemental, responsive services.

  • Develop clear anti-oppression/discrimination policies.
  • Ensure client representation on the Board of Directors and hiring committees.
  • Involve clients in policy and program development and evaluation. Resource: Nothing About Us Without Us.
  • Provide a formal, regular process for client feedback, and respond to issues raised.
  • Post a “safe space” statement that lets everyone know discrimination is not tolerated.
  • Ensure compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).