Minister ‘cautiously optimistic’ sobering centre location found

Minister of Health and Social Services Glen Abernethy. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/Moose FM, 2016)
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A location for a joint sobering centre and day shelter in Yellowknife may have been found downtown, it just won’t be available for two years.

RELATED: NWT Health Minister committed to sobering centre, MAP program

RELATED: Homelessness Yellowknifer’s top priority, says city survey

That’s according to NWT Health Minister Glen Abernethy.

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“We believe we have an opportunity to co-locate these programs in a location in the downtown core, but that spot won’t be available for two years,” Abernethy told Moose FM.

The programs come as part of the Homelessness Road Map Action Plan unveiled in October to address homelessness in the territory’s capital.

The original plan had been to open a new sobering centre and relocate the day shelter in one single facility downtown where homelessness is an issue.

The 2017-2018 budget set aside $230,000 to keep the centre operating 12 hours a day.

An additional $520,000 was allocated for the sobering centre, which would operate as an overnight safe space for intoxicated people to sober up and receive clinical support along with a hot meal.

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RELATED: Funds for junior kindergarten, 911 included in NWT budget

However, of the dozen or so locations Abernethy’s department has visited, he says none of them have met the centre’s needs.

Several issues arose during the search, from landlords being reluctant to rent out a space to locations being too small, the location not getting the fire marshal’s support or buildings not being wheelchair accessible.

The location would require both shower and kitchen facilities and would have to house approximately 30 people on sleeping mats, along with the ability to separate men and woman.

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“Those things have not materialized,” Abernethy said. “We’ve had to be flexible and look at alternative options.”

Divide and conquer

One of those options includes opening the sobering centre and day shelter in separate locations until the building becomes available two years down the line.

Abernethy says he’s ‘cautiously optimistic’ his department has found a temporary building for the sobering centre.

“We believe we have found a location, we just need to check off a few more boxes before I can make a public announcement,” he said.

While it’s good news, this interim location would be outside of the downtown core.

When asked about the issue of accessibility for the individuals the centre would be serving, Abernethy hinted that the city’s new street outreach service (SOS) could safely transport people to the centre.

Yellowknife’s SOS program is still currently in the works.

RELATED: City seeks organization to run street outreach services (SOS)

While the sobering centre may be moved outside of downtown for the interim, Abernethy says the day shelter will stay downtown.

“We believe we have an interim, short-term solution. We’re pretty optimistic that it’s going to work out,” he said.

“Ultimately we want to be in the downtown core but we need to make sure the program is up and running. If we keep delaying to find a location to meet our long-term goals, it could be quite some time and I think we need to act sooner than that.”

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