Hockey arena will be temporary home for Yellowknife sobering centre

A sobering centre has been on the N.W.T. government's radar for more than a year as a way to mitigate public intoxication and give some homeless people a safe place to spend the night.

Mobile unit would help pick up drunk people on city streets

Centre Square Mall in downtown Yellowknife is often a spot where intoxicated people hang out. (Ollie Williams/CBC)

Yellowknife will soon have a sobering centre — at least for the next couple of months. 

The N.W.T.'s Department of Health and Social Services says the city should have a permanent sobering centre — designed to allow intoxicated people a safe, supervised environment to recuperate — in two years, but for now, it's taking the City of Yellowknife's offer to use a local arena until the fall.

"We have the Yellowknife Community Arena that's not going to be used — that's a significant amount of space," said Yellowknife Mayor Mark Heyck. "It has bathroom facilities, washroom facilities, kitchen facilities. It's a durable facility that might be appropriate for something like this."
Mayor Mark Heyck hopes a Yellowknife sobering centre and mobile community street outreach program can be running soon. (CBC)

A sobering centre has been on the Government of the Northwest Territories' radar for more than a year as a way to not only help mitigate public intoxication, but also give some homeless people a safe place to spend the night.

Health minister Glen Abernethy says the government has looked into at least 16 locations for the centre, but has failed to acquire a spot due to high costs or because some building owners don't want that type of program run on the property. 

Abernethy says when the ice goes back into the arena in September, the sobering centre will likely move to another temporary location while construction begins on the centres permanent location, which Abernethy hopes will be ready in two years. 

Mobile response unit 

Heyck says the city is close to finalizing the details of a mobile community street outreach program that will work alongside the sobering centre.

The service, which will be contracted to the Yellowknife Women's Society, will provide a mobile response unit that will be equipped to handle severely intoxicated people in distress by either bringing them to the sobering centre, or possibly taking them to the hospital.

Heyck expects the service will be run out of a retro-fitted van donated to the city.

The service could reduce strain on the city's emergency services, Heyck says, which currently respond to dozens of calls related to severe public intoxication.
The Yellowknife Community Arena has been offered up as a short-term sobering centre for the City of Yellowknife. (Walter Strong/CBC)

"That's one of the fundamental ideas, to provide a service that's appropriate to the situation and not provide emergency medical services through an ambulance, which can be very expensive," Heyck said.

Heyck hopes both the sobering centre and the mobile outreach service will be up and running "very soon."

"I'm hopeful that in the next month and a half something can be off the ground."

'Too long coming'

Yellowknife resident Brad Herriot says the city's offer is a great idea.

"We need to deal these social issues, even though they might be difficult, so I'm all for it," he said.

'It's taking too long to take care of serious problems in this city,' says Jim Taylor. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi)
"I think that as soon as they get something going that's great, and in the meantime... they can utilise the arena. Kudos to the city for offering it."

Jim Taylor on the other hand says he doesn't know what to think about the situation.

"I guess any place will do," Taylor said. "This has just been too long coming. It's taking too long to take care of serious problems in this city.

"It's like a patchwork solution… If there's going to be any help for the people who have addiction problems then it should be a stand-alone place that's properly run [and] supervised."

With files from Loren McGinnis, Alyssa Mosher, Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi


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