City councillors are not given magic wands. We are not all powerful.

We can’t tell anyone at City Hall to do anything, really, except by majority vote of council.

The only exception is within a system of initiatives, which allow individual councillors to lead city staff in an area of civic need.

My main initiative is focused on mental health. This is a passion project, as I’ve advocated for greater understanding of this issue for 20 years, after I suffered a bout of depression.

Maybe you’ve already read or heard me talking up the idea of a managed alcohol facility. The idea is to offer long-term housing for chronic street alcoholics.

Managed alcohol facilities do not require sobriety and in fact provide alcohol in ‘prescribed’ quantities, under strict rules.

But the idea is to provide a safe place, off the streets, where alcoholics can drink just enough to ward off withdrawal symptoms, but not enough to become intoxicated.

The idea is controversial. Yet the benefits are threefold: 1) This vulnerable folk get proper housing, nutrition and care; 2) Petty crime and social disorder in vulnerable neighbourhoods is greatly reduced; 3) Calls for service to police and emergency services drops significantly.

These facilities are succeeding in other Canadian cities. We need one or more here.

So in the spring I gathered service providers, police, and administration around a table to talk.

We decided first to get a better handle on the extent of the problem in Edmonton, as well as services already in existence.

We’ve been contacted by multiple organizations and research groups wanting to participate and offer advice and knowledge. Opportunities are presenting themselves.

So things are moving, slowly but steadily.

When I first raised the idea of a managed alcohol facility in my Edmonton Journal column a few years back, the reaction was loud and negative.

This time, I’ve heard nothing but supportive comments. There’s been a lot of work done to reduce stigma around mental health in the past decade. Maybe it’s paying off.

While experts talk about the “comorbidity” of addiction and mental illness, there is growing evidence that addiction is itself a mental illness. In other words, addiction is not a sign of weak morals or character.

Addiction, instead, should be regarded and treated as a health care issue — not as a personal failing or crime.

Some people worry their taxes will fund this initiative. Yet I think we can prove a managed alcohol facility will save tax dollars.

Much of the savings will be in areas of provincial responsibility, though, so we will ask for the province to participate.

The managed alcohol program is only part of my initiative. But I’m excited about its potential to help some struggling citizens and uplift neighbourhoods.

I don’t have a magic wand. But I will continue to use my position to speak out against stigma and encourage others to do the same.

By Scott McKeen, City Councillor Ward 6