Salvation Army eases alcohol-free rule at homeless shelter

The Salvation Army has reversed a decades-old policy and will no longer bar people who’ve been drinking from its shelter in La Crosse, Wis., the La Crosse Tribune reports.

The local chapter sought and received permission from a division office in Milwaukee and a regional headquarters in Chicago to eliminate the requirement that people take a Breathalyzer test before being allowed to seek shelter at the facility.

Any reading above zero was grounds for being banned. Officials said the policy was intended to protect children at the shelter.

“With our population, a huge number of people are battling addiction,” Kelley Waddell, social services coordinator for the corps, told the paper, and officials questioned whether the policy was helping them.

“Now, we are using a harm-reduction model, trying to get people to see the harm they do to themselves” with addictions, she said, adding the facility will still require a breath test for those who appear inebriated.

Mandating the test is based on someone’s behavior, she said. If it appears that a potential client has imbibed, that person must take the test to help establish a baseline of acceptability and, if anyone needs to be referred to a hospital for detoxification, to provide that number, Waddell said.

If the person’s behavior is such that there is no threat to the individual, Salvation Army staff or other shelter inhabitants, admittance is approved, she said.

A handful have been denied entry since the policy began, and three who returned the following night were able to enter, she said.

“Actually, it’s been going great,” Waddell said. “The biggest thing is that some we would have turned away before now can stay.”