'We're not too impressed,' say neighbours of permanent Yellowknife sobering centre

Business owners in the area say the government's 'neighbourhood integration' plan isn't working. They say they haven't been consulted about plans for the sobering centre.

Centre will have capacity for 60 people, with an additional 5 bathrooms, laundry facility and showers

The location of the permanent sobering centre on 50th Street. It used to be a bar called the Right Spot. It's beside the Northern Lites Motel and across the street from the Northern News Services newspaper office. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Yellowknife's sobering centre is on track to move to its permanent home downtown on 50th Street by mid-September, but neighbours say they haven't been properly consulted.

The centre is a place for people to sleep if they can't get into other shelters in town because they are intoxicated, or the shelters are full. Right now, the Salvation Army is temporarily housing the sobering centre.

A temporary facility first opened last summer at a Yellowknife arena. When it moves to its permanent location, the sobering centre will operate 24 hours a day, and include a day shelter.

'Not too impressed,' says neighbour

At a Municipal Services Committee meeting on Monday, Nathalie Nadeau, who's the Director of Child, Family and Community Wellness with the N.W.T. health authority, provided an update on the shelter's pending move. She said she knows having a sobering centre in your neighbourhood can be a hard sell for some, so a 'neighbourhood integration' strategy was designed to get feedback from other businesses on 50th Street.

The strategy includes scheduling an open house for neighbours, and designating a contact so they have a place to raise issues. Nadeau said they've already been in contact with neighbours, providing updates about the plans.

The N.W.T. health authority's Nathalie Nadeau and Perry Heath speaking at the Municipal Services Committee meeting in Yellowknife Monday. (Allison Chandler/CBC)

But neighbours of the centre's future permanent location on 50th Street say integration efforts have failed. In fact, many say they haven't heard anything from the government about the move at all.

April Desjarlais owns one of the buildings next door to the new centre.

"They never even CC'ed me on an email," she said.

"They said that they communicated, which was false. So then, now what else are they saying they're going to do that they're not going to do?"

Ultimately, Desjarlais thinks the plans for the centre are good — but she worries about how it will be implemented. One concern she raised is the logic of putting a sobering centre next to the city's downtown liquor store.

'I've lived in the North my whole life, I'm an Aboriginal person, I have a lot of compassion,' said April Desjarlais. (Submitted by April Desjarlais)

"I've lived in the North my whole life, I'm an Aboriginal person, I have a lot of compassion," she said.

"I understand the city has a challenge and we as Yellowknifers need to come together to find a solution. But I just feel that the location where they're going to be putting this facility doesn't make much sense, when it's 50 feet from the liquor store."

Valerie Mitro manages the Northern Lites Motel, which is next door to the centre. She did receive an email from the government about the plans, but she would've liked to be consulted earlier. She sees what's going on at the current downtown day shelter around the corner.

"We're not too impressed," Mitro said.

"Right now, over at the day shelter, if you go in there, there are no controls hardly at all. What's it going to be when it moves over here? It's just as close to the liquor store. I don't know, they didn't plan this out very well."

Mitro added she thinks locating shelters near hotels and tourist hotspots could hurt Yellowknife's tourism industry.

"We'll get comments from guests that come through companies like Expedia or tour groups," she said.

"They'll go online and say there's drunks all around"

More than 6,000 intakes

The government has struggled with finding a permanent location for the combined sobering centre and day shelter since the idea was first suggested in early 2017.

The health authority's Nadeau said on Monday that since it began operation last summer, the sobering centre has sheltered 414 unique clients out of a total 6,013 intakes.

Nadeau said that means the majority of those who use the facility use it repeatedly, and often. She said 90 per cent of the people who come are men, and Tuesdays and Thursdays are the busiest.

She also highlighted some improvements to the sobering centre, including expanding capacity to 60 people, adding an additional five bathrooms, a laundry facility, and showers. By contrast, the original setup in the arena could take about 28 people, who slept in camping tents with just a sleeping pad and tarp.

"I think this will be a really good and positive change for clients," she said.