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Managed alcohol moves to Arnica Inn as day/sobering centre reopens

Positive outcomes among the sobering centre/day shelter’s most vulnerable clients currently in quarantine show the need for a permanent detox centre in Yellowknife. Craig Gilbert/NNSL photo

The joint Sobering and Day Centre has resumed its standard operations as a drop-in shelter following a 30-day lock-down.

The repurposed Arnica Inn building will continue to house at-risk residents and provide a managed alcohol program (MAP). The program was introduced last month at the joint site on 50 Street to support the vulnerable individuals who chose to self-isolate during the month-long lock-down there. The NWT Disabilities Council, which runs it, said 30 homeless individuals signed up to take part in the alcohol program and remain in quarantine at the beginning of April.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green recently filed a motion calling on the sobering/day centre to resume its pre-pandemic model. She had expressed concerns about people being left out in the cold without crucial services following the downtown shelter’s lockdown.

She told NNSL Media she's "happy" that on Monday they did just that, albeit with a reduced capacity in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

She posted on Facebook that the day shelter side of the facility is now open to up to 20 people from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The sobering centre, housed on the other side of the same downtown building, will accommodate as many as 18 people. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 8 a.m.

“To not have a sobering and day shelter felt like a backwards step, so I’m of course happy,” continued Green.

Clients wishing to remain in self-isolation following their stay at the joint Sobering and Day Centre can now do so at the Arnica Inn, which is operated by the Yellowknife Women’s Society and the GNWT.

Men and women can access a managed alcohol program at Arnica Inn, a temporary offering during the pandemic that advocates say should be made permanent.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

“Everyone will be expected to self-isolate," Bree Denning, executive director at the Yellowknife Women’s Society, said. "It is not a lockdown. Individuals are able to come and go, attend work, go for walks (or) run errands. They will not, however, be able to have guests or visit one another while on-site. We will be providing rooms to both men and women."

Green said the centre was established, after years of work from governments and community advocacy agencies, to ensure vulnerable people can access a safe space, with medical oversight, rather than being taken to jail or to the hospital if they’re intoxicated.

“We also wanted to take some of the workload off the RCMP who were picking up intoxicated people and putting them in cells, and off of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) who were picking up intoxicated people and taking them to the hospital,” said Green.

Yellowknife RCMP couldn't confirm whether there are more people being put in cells now. A spokesperson told NNSL Media they don't have cell lodging numbers to compare to pre-Covid-19 figures.

Six people had been admitted to the Arnica Inn site as of Tuesday. Denning said clients are being prioritized based on their medical needs.

"Our space is designed to provide a space for individuals living in shelters or other overcrowded conditions, and who would be at risk of severe illness were they to contract Covid-19,” said Denning.

The Arnica Inn has 25 rooms, which is sufficient enough to meet current demands, according to a news release from the territorial government. Capacity will be increased if demand increases.

A supervised managed alcohol and tobacco consumption program is being provided at Arnica Inn, said Denning. Cannabis is permitted at the site, but clients must obtain it independently, she added.

“Individuals who struggle with substance misuse will be provided with measured amounts of alcohol on a schedule, and individuals for whom substance use does not cause issues will be provided with alcohol on request,” said Denning.

Community advocates and politicians have long called for governments to bring in a managed alcohol program to deal with the high rates of alcohol abuse and addiction in the city and across the territory.

Late last month, the NWT Disabilities Council touted a number of positives – some unforeseen – that came in the wake of the 30-day lockdown at the downtown joint sobering and day centre: clients were drinking less and feeling better than ever.

For those positives to continue post-Covid-19, Denning said consistency is key.

“It seems like what we need to do to support individuals on managed alcohol is to be consistent in our approach and plan for the long term,” she said.

“Once Covid-19 is no longer a concern, our ability to offer the program may change. I think (Covid-19) has shown that a managed alcohol program can be successful. But we need to be able to offer it on an ongoing basis, while bridging people into intensive or other therapeutic options directly,” said Denning.

Green shared those sentiments.

“The managed alcohol program and additional housing supports for people who are homeless became essential when Covid-19 arrived here in the NWT,” said Green, who argues the preliminary results at the shelter show a MAP would find ongoing success in Yellowknife.

“What we have is the opportunity to be innovative and transform services to people in need to better meet their needs," she said. "I think that’s been one of the upsides of the pandemic."

Meanwhile, the GNWT-run temporary day shelter at the Salvation Army will continue to operate to operate "for as long as necessary," wrote GNWT spokesperson Sara Chorostkowski.

She said occupancy levels are not being reduced and operations hours remain the same.