A woman stands outside the newest Yellowknife sobering and day shelter, where clients can drop in for safety, comfort and food. It’s a welcome change from the old place, she says.
The sobering and day shelter recently won the 2018 Premier’s Award for the collaborative effort of Advanced Medical Solutions for “outstanding achievement” and their collaboration with the GNWT to open a safe place for intoxicated residents to sleep off the effects of alcohol and drugs.
The entire operation, centered on the principles of harm reduction, has created a safer environment that clients too are recognizing.
The new sobering and day shelter is a positive change for one woman, who asked to be nameless but uses the shelter on a regular basis.
The centre is a far cry from its predecessor and clients feel a greater sense of pride toward the facility, she said.
“Oh my god, remember the old place? This is like a hotel. You’ve got bathrooms, showers and laundry and these people do care,” she said.
“They make you feel comfortable. I’m not scared, nothing. I’m good,” she said.
The new model which emphasizes harm reduction and trauma-informed care is like “night and day,” said Denise McKee, executive director of the NWT Disabilities Council.
“It couldn’t have been done without Advanced Medical Solutions and the partnership between the GNWT and ourselves,” she said.
The centre is a reflection of the clients’ view of their own dignity, said McKee.
“They finally have a space that was created for them. People took time. They were incorporated in everything from the colours inside, to the layout,” she said.
“It becomes a flexible model where people don’t have to be wandering the streets looking for a space … depending on how they’re presenting,” said McKee.
The centre allows people to sleep if they need to and, in moments of sobriety, to meet clients with the support they want.
McKee said the centre has reduced calls for service in the city and limited its clients’ exposure to trauma and violence on the street.
She added the building design is “more inviting” for partnerships and practicums that would have been less likely in the former locations.
The centre is “bright and has a very positive vibe about it. It’s much more inviting, holistic and caring,” she said.
“It’s really about leadership and collaboration. We have tours coming through with representatives from all over Canada,” she said.
Representatives from Alberta, Yukon and B.C. have visited Yellowknife to look at the centre’s model as a benchmark.
By using the principles of harm reduction and non-judgement, the centre is keeping people physically healthier, she said.
“This is meeting a need,” said McKee. “Harm reduction, non-judgmental and the most we can do for people at the point they’re at.
“It gives them that safety that ‘I’m going to be cared about, I’m not going to be laying on the street,’’ she said.
The sobering centre has been full almost every night as temperatures drop. The capacity levels are managed in partnership with other locations, so clients can be rotated out to a residence or to the Salvation Army once they have sobered up, she said.
The shelter has 27 beds but may cycle 35 or 40 people through the beds every night.
They are able to do so by having clients that are sober enough to go to another location, including a private residence or to the Salvation Army.
The centre is already planning to proactively meet the needs that the winter influx will bring, she said.
“At some point, it’s more about just being inside on a 50 below night. It’s about getting safely through that night. The flexibility of this model makes it easy to come in and make sure nobody is sleeping rough,” she said.
Public education is still an important component of the shelter so that the public understands the programming is beneficial, said McKee.
“It’s creating that education for people so that they can say this is part of our community and we might as well get on board and progress to the next step, which we hope will be a managed alcohol program as harm reduction,” she said.