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Health
Yellowknife

New contract for YK's sobering centre as agreement signed


The NWT Disabilities Council, operator of Yellowknife's joint day and sobering centre since September 2018, has won the contract to keep running the facility.

The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority confirmed the council's successful bid on Friday. The authority did not immediately clarify how many bids had been received.

A good-neighbour agreement with other agencies and occupants of 50 Street – in Yellowknife's downtown – has now been finalized, the health authority said.

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Denise McKee, executive director of the NWT Disabilities Council, said the organization would work to better embrace Indigenous culture at the facility while expanding some security measures.

The sobering centre and day shelter have been housed under the same roof since last fall. The sobering centre provides people who are intoxicated with a place to sleep, while the day centre is designed to offer a safe, warm daytime environment.

In full: Read the good-neighbour agreement

Operation of the centre has "not been without challenges," the health authority acknowledged in its Friday statement.

In addition to issues of public intoxication and debris in the area, neighbours have complained with increasing urgency of violence in the vicinity of the building. In September, 36-year-old Mark Poodlat died of injuries sustained in an assault outside the shelter. Victor Ugyuk, 32, is charged with murder in relation to Poodlat's death.

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An independent evaluation published just before the attack on Poodlat recommended the facility provide regular safety patrols – which have since been introduced – alongside more services to help get people back on track, including housing assistance and case managers.

In the long term, the evaluation suggested the centre could house an "integrated service model" with a medical team, addictions counsellors, family counsellors, and harm reduction programs.

Signed agreement 'critical'

Speaking to Cabin Radio on Friday, the NWT Disabilities Council's executive director said her organization was reacting to issues in the area, providing as an example the addition of extra staff at certain times.

McKee said a perceived increase in violence "isn't necessarily reflected in the numbers." She said a safety patrol now tours the area of the building for 12 hours a day, five days a week.

"They're just engaging with individuals that are experiencing homelessness, redirecting them into the centre, making sure they're OK, and finding them the supports they need," McKee said.

As the new contract begins, McKee said the council is looking at expanding its security camera capabilities outside the building. Meanwhile, the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation has begun working to help people catch a ride to its healing camp each morning. "Bringing more Elders in is something that we're going to do," McKee added, saying the facility would work toward a more "Indigenous culture-based model."

McKee also described a move to make sure the facility "supports people who are homeless and immersed in addiction issues," rather than acting as a "drop-in centre for people who have homes and are connected to all kinds of other services."

Work will continue with the City of Yellowknife, municipal enforcement, and the RCMP, McKee said, to have these agencies step in if crimes are committed.

In the longer term, McKee said her organization would support the introduction of an alcohol management program, which provides people with a limited amount of alcohol each day in order to help stabilize their daily drinking at a lower level.

Mayor Rebecca Alty, owners of 50 Street businesses, RCMP detachment commander Alex Laporte, and representatives of the NWT Disabilities Council and territorial health authority sign a good-neighbour agreement for Yellowknife's sobering centre. Photo: GNWT

In a statement, health authority chief executive Sue Cullen said the signing of a good-neighbour agreement was "critical" to the building's future success.

“I want to recognize our partners and the group of neighbours who have dedicated much time, thought, and advocacy to get us to this point," Cullen stated. "I believe that as we continue to improve this program and layer on additional services we will continue to make a positive impact in the daily lives of some of our territories most vulnerable residents.”

The eight-page agreement, signed on Friday, states in part: "Clients [of the centre] have the right to act as they please, so long as those actions are lawful, and do not harm others or infringe upon their rights. Cooperation and respect between citizens are desirable qualities, and will be actively promoted in the neighbourhood."

The agreement notes all signatories – businesses and people using the day shelter among them – have the right to personal safety and quiet enjoyment of their property or public spaces.

In the agreement, the facility's operator promises to "monitor and promote the orderly conduct of its clients immediately outside the facility" and call the RCMP "in cases where employees witness a client engaging in criminal conduct while on their property or in the immediate vicinity." The RCMP is called on to provide "prompt" response times.

A committee coordinated by the NWT's health authority will meet monthly to oversee the implementation of the good-neighbour agreement. The document is not legally binding.

Ollie Williams contributed reporting.

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