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Territory seeks sobering centre
Health minister says department is 'aggressively' seeking downtown location

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Thursday, December 8, 2016

The territorial government continues to struggle to secure a location for a sobering centre, a facility that has become one of its top priorities for dealing with homelessness in the city.

NNSL photo/graphic

Mayor Mark Heyck, left, with Caroline Cochrane, minister responsible for homelessness and Northwest Territories Housing Corporation president Tom Williams brief MLAs on plans to deal with homelessness on Tuesday. - Shane Magee/NNSL photo

Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy told MLAs his department is "aggressively" looking for a downtown location during a briefing for MLAs on Tuesday.

The preference would be a spot that could house both the Safe Harbour Day Shelter and a sobering centre, he said.

"Where we're having difficulty is finding a suitable location," Abernethy said, which may lead to opening a sobering centre separate from the day shelter.

Such a facility would accommodate up to 20 men and 20 women, giving intoxicated people a place to stay. The facility would be staffed by a medical practitioner, would guide users toward various other government services and would also offer a healthy snack or meal.

The shelters for men and women in the city do accept intoxicated people, though they have limited capacity. Independent living units are expected to be added to the shelters but that work has yet to begin. A plan to move the Centre for Northern Families daycare was delayed while asbestos in the new location was addressed.

To stem the demand, Stanton Territorial Hospital has opened to give some homeless people a place to stay said Caroline Cochrane, minister responsible for homelessness.

The day shelter is expected to open for 12 hours per day this month as well. This move closes gaps in time during the day where both emergency shelters and day shelters are closed.

Cochrane assured MLAs that any homeless person who wants a place to stay will be accommodated this winter - whether at the hospital, at the RCMP detachment or shelters.

The comments came during a briefing by Abernethy, Mayor Mark Heyck, the NWT Housing Corporation and Cochrane on various initiatives they are pursuing.

A document released in October outlines a list of ways to deal with homelessness that resulted from an April meeting organized by Cochrane.

Several MLAs praised the progress on the file. Abernethy said there has been a shift in the conversation around homelessness away from each level of government pinning responsibility on another.

"I say that recognizing that there's still a lot of work to do," Abernethy said.

One aspect the territory is examining is creation of a managed alcohol program, which allows those with alcohol addiction to get a small dose of alcohol at several points during the day. The goal is to keep them from binging on liquor or chemical products like hairspray.

Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Tom Beaulieu, who represents Ndilo and Dettah, expressed concern with the plan to introduce a managed alcohol program.

Beaulieu said those he knows who have successfully quit alcohol have gone "cold turkey." Abernethy said when he visited a managed alcohol program in Ottawa last month, one thing that was clear was that it is only for certain people with chronic, severe addiction.

"There is a place for it. I hear you loud and clear, I hear your concerns. It is something we have to do our due diligence on," Abernethy said about Beaulieu's comments.

The mayor said a lot of the violence on downtown streets has been linked to people taking various chemicals, not alcohol from a store.

"It does need to be seriously examined to see if it would work in a context like Yellowknife," Heyck said about a managed alcohol program.

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