North

Here's what the N.W.T. health minister says about Yellowknife's sobering centre

Violence outside of Yellowknife's joint sobering and day centre downtown has been the topic of debate recently. CBC spoke with Health Minister Glen Abernethy about the issues of violence, the centre's location and what's next.

'We need to find some solutions. But moving isn't one of them,' says Minister Glen Abernethy

N.W.T. Health Minister Glen Abernethy speaks to reporters at the Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife. Abernethy spoke to CBC recently about the current issues on the Yellowknife joint sobering and day centre. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Violence outside of Yellowknife's joint sobering and day centre has been a topic of debate recently, after neighbours told city council about fights they've witnessed outside the downtown centre.

Some have called for the centre to move from its current spot, just steps from the liquor store.

Others, including Yellowknife's mayor, say blaming the centre's location isn't fair, when in the long run, it will help those in need.

One person whose voice hasn't been heard is the minister responsible for the centre's inception. 

CBC spoke with Minister of Health and Social Services Glen Abernethy about the issues surrounding the centre. Here's some of what he had to say, in his own words. 

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.


Proximity to downtown liquor store

We were looking for years for a location for these services.

When I was informed that the location available was the old Right Spot bar building beside the liquor store, I was concerned like everybody else — it's not ideal.

I agree that being next door to the liquor store is not ideal, but it's the location we have for the next four and a half years until the lease ends.

The joint sobering and day centre is open seven days a week. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Move out of downtown

We know that the services need to be where the clients are, which is downtown.

A number of years ago, regardless of where you walked in the downtown core, you were seeing the same problem that you're seeing around the existing shelter, but it was everywhere.

I'm frustrated for the neighbours. I'm as concerned as they are about the impact on their businesses. We need to find some solutions — but moving isn't one of them.

Dealing with violence

Not all people accessing the shelter are violent people.

Most of them are good individuals who are struggling with homelessness, addictions, or possibly a mental health issue who are looking for safe places, warm places, and places where they can maybe get a little bit of food and some support.

Watch video of a recent altercation here:

Videos posted to Facebook recently showed several altercations outside the front doors of the sobering centre in downtown Yellowknife. (Yellowknife Day Shelter Neighbours Group/Facebook) 0:53

I sometimes fear that the message that's being sent out is that all these people are violent and that's not fair or accurate.

There are some violent individuals and I think it's important that when any of us witness these acts of violence, that we phone the RCMP and get them to address it.

(Abernethy said his department is discussing the possibility of bringing on a security guard. A new "float position" has been created at the centre; that person walks outside the centre and encourages clients to come inside, or to not hang out in front of neighbours' properties.)

Addressing neighbours' concerns

As issues have come up, we've attempted to deal with them.

We provide a direct contact number in emails to the neighbours so they can raise issues with us in real time, so that we can work to address them.

One of the issues brought up early on was the garbage that was appearing around the neighbourhood. Now we have a program where there's a cleanup around that building and around the neighbours' buildings.

We're asking the RCMP about possibly having more police presence in the area. We're talking to the city of Yellowknife about possibly some additional solutions.

What's next?

We know that there's possible federal money coming to us in about four years that we hope to use to build a permanent location [at the former daycare lot along 51 Street].

If that's where that facility ends up, there will be some neighbours there who will probably be frustrated as well, or some people who are concerned because it's next door to a popular bar in town.

This building on 51 Street, which housed an RCMP detachment and a daycare at different times, was torn down on Dec. 18, 2018. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

There is no ideal location that would meet all of our needs, but it does need to be in the downtown core. There is no question.

And as long as it's in the downtown core, you can not even get five minutes away from the liquor store at all times.

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