Yellowknife's new temporary sobering centre an 'excellent' solution for now

A temporary sobering centre in Yellowknife has been open at the Salvation Army for two weeks.

Temporary centre has a capacity for 20, plan in place for when demand exceeds capacity

Denise McKee, executive director of the NWT Disabilities Council, says the new temporary location for the city's sobering centre is 'excellent.' (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi)

Yellowknife's temporary sobering centre has been open in a space at the Salvation Army for two weeks, and clients say the new location is "excellent."

That's according to Denise McKee, executive director of the NWT Disabilities Council.

Over the summer the program was temporarily housed in the Yellowknife Community Arena, but needed to move out to make way for winter programming. McKee says several improvements have been made since the move, including cots for clients instead of mats on the floor, which people had been sleeping on in the arena.

"[It] wasn't the best scenario," said McKee.

"So what we did was we listened to what people had to say and we put together the cots, blankets, sheets, pillows."

Another change is men and women are now separated into different rooms. At the old location, a low divider was placed through the centre of the arena to keep them apart.

What's also changed is the number of clients the centre sees every night.

"For the first couple of days ... we had about nine or 10 people," McKee said.

"What we've seen is a steady increase over the last two weeks to capacity most of the nights."

Cots in the men's section of the temporary Yellowknife sobering centre. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi)

The new location has a capacity of 20 clients — 15 men and 5 women — at a time, which is 10 less than the previous centre.

McKee says on average, the old sobering centre saw 13 to 17 clients a night, while the new one sees 19 to 20.

Part of the reason for the jump is the colder weather, and a more central location that makes it easier for people in need to admit themselves.

More clients are expected as it gets colder out, raising concern that some may have to be turned away.

"It's definitely a concern," said Nathalie Nadeau, director of Child, Family and Community Wellness for the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority. She's responsible for the sobering centre's design, and coordination between all partners delivering services.

But a system is in place to ensure no one is left in the cold even if they can't stay at the sobering centre.

If the centre is full, either the Salvation Army's space for men or the Centre for Northern Families for women, will be called to see if they have room. If they do, the client will be transported to one of those locations by the City's street outreach services.

Since the sobering centre first opened in July, McKee says it's had a positive impact on regular clientele as they've built up a relationship with the staff.

"They are calmer, they do feel more relaxed, they're sometimes more open to making connections with other services," she said.

Nathalie Nadeau, director of Child, Family and Community Wellness for the NWT Health and Social Services Authority says clients have developed relationships with staff and are open to making connections with other social services. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

"The anxiety and the stress and that trying to just survive ... got in the way of them being able to access those services, so this is a really critical piece to reducing the harm and taking away some of that stress so that they can connect."

Nadeau says the plan is to have the recently selected permanent sobering centre ready when the temporary one closes at the end of March to prevent a gap in services.