Yellowknife's sobering, day centre needs more programs, better services, report states

A program evaluation of Yellowknife's joint sobering and day centre in downtown Yellowknife looked at how things are currently done at the centre, the program's strengths and challenges, and how effective it is. 

Some clients turned away from sobering centre for not being drunk enough

The program evaluation comes with several recommendations, including employ addictions and family counsellors and increasing the centre's capacity. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Yellowknife's joint sobering and day centre should have more activities, employ addictions and family counsellors, and do a better job explaining what both parts of the centre do, according to a recent evaluation of the program

Consulting firm DPRA wrote the report, which was released Thursday. It looks at how things are currently done at the centre, the program's strengths and what it can improve. 

The centre is split into two parts; the day centre provides a place for people to relax and get a meal, while the sobering centre gives intoxicated people a place to sleep. 

Of the 45 clients surveyed, 91 per cent visit the day centre every day, while 20 per cent visit the sobering centre daily. 

DPRA noted in the first five months the joint centre was open, the average number of urgent visits to Stanton Territorial Hospital's emergency department dropped to 32 per month, down from 51 per month before the shelter opened.

In December, Yellowknife RCMP reported they saw fewer people in cells overnight, partially thanks to the sobering centre.

However, DPRA made several recommendations for short- and long-term improvements, including increasing surveillance outside, giving sober clients a dedicated space, and increasing the centre's capacity.

'Some really good recommendations'

The centre has already addressed several recommendations, said Nathalie Nadeau, the director of child, family and community wellness for the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority. 

"Some things around being more culturally appropriate, involving more Indigenous [people] or elders in the program, there were some really good recommendations," Nadeau said. 

One change included hiring two safety patrol officers in July. The officers patrol the neighbourhood from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Their job includes calling RCMP if needed, directing people back to the centre when outside, and to act as a contact for neighbours to voice any concerns. 

Too sober for the shelter

Violence and high levels of intoxication are the "most frequently identified issues" making it harder for some clients to access the centre, the report states. 

However, it also found 82 per cent of the clients surveyed always or often feel safe at the day centre, and 74 per cent feel the same at the sobering centre. 

When speaking with clients, staff, and other agencies, DPRA found a number of other barriers to accessing the centre, including there being no room, clients being banned for periods of time, and in the case of the sobering centre, some people weren't intoxicated enough to stay. 

This graph shows the reason clients were turned away from the centre. (DPRA)

Between September 2018, and February 2019, people were turned away 543 times from the sobering centre. Nearly half the men who were turned away were told it was because they were not intoxicated enough.

There are concerns this could be viewed as promoting intoxication as a way to get in, the report states. 

"The thing that we need to balance is capacity and who has the most need," Nadeau said. ​"If we have somebody severely intoxicated that cannot access other shelter services, we need to prioritize that."

Where someone is turned away from the centre, staff will check with the city's other shelters to see if they have space for them, she said. 

While addiction services and referrals to other government support programs are available at the centre, not many clients accessed them, since they didn't know about them and they weren't offered often enough. 

Nadeau said her department is looking at ways to bring more mental health and addictions supports to clients directly at the centre, rather than asking them to travel to get help.

Many people also came to the centre to eat, with food being listed as the top service there. 

This graph shows the percentages of clients reporting use of the centre's services at least ‘monthly’ (DPRA)

Boredom increases potential violence, drinking

The report notes there isn't much for people to do, beyond watching TV, listening to the radio, talking or playing cards at the day centre. That results in boredom increases the risk for violence or drinking. 

The evaluation recommends bringing in more programs like sewing, beading and crafts, cooking classes, music lessons, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and employment support programs. 

Nadeau said her department is working on addressing the recommendations, but couldn't give a timeline for when the longer-term recommendations might be met, as that will depend on the next government following October's election.