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NWT takes tentative steps toward plugging aftercare gaps


Programs unveiled in recent months show the Northwest Territories government attempting to address a lack of aftercare services for residents emerging from addictions treatment.

As an example, the territory’s health minister said last week 13 groups have so far asked the territorial government for cash from a fund designed to improve addictions aftercare in communities.

Julie Green said a fund opened in the summer had proved “very popular.” Indigenous governments had the first right to apply, followed by community governments and non-profits.

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Up to $68,000 per applicant is available for projects that help addictions recovery and aftercare programming in the territory’s communities.

A total of $780,000 is available, the GNWT said earlier this year, suggesting the fund may now be close to oversubscription. It was intended to run until March on a first-come, first-served basis.

The detail of specific applicants, and whether any cash had so far been distributed, was not given. Green did, though – in the course of answering a question from Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong – say the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency had not yet submitted an application.

Weyallon Armstrong had been asking Green how the territory could move more addictions recovery services away from Yellowknife and into smaller communities.

“Our people need actions from the government to support those in the grip of alcoholism and drug addictions. The government needs to be more effective and work with people in the regions and communities, not just in Yellowknife,” she said.

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“I am aware that five percent of the government operational budget is to address addictions, but that is not enough.”

Green said a range of funding programs were being made available to help Indigenous and community governments provide local supports, rather than the territory directly administering such efforts.

She added an app named Wagon, which she termed “an interactive aftercare and recovery app,” had been developed by Nanaimo’s Edgewood treatment centre and was available to NWT residents.

Transitional housing plan

Weyallon Armstrong pressed Green on how the territory specifically offers wraparound services, like childcare, counselling, and career coaching, to people from their twenties to their forties struggling with addictions.

The health minister said her government was in the process of launching a transitional housing program that will help people find somewhere to live when they leave southern treatment facilities.

So-called sober houses of that kind are not currently offered in the territory, but are a step toward the sort of local aftercare that many NWT leaders have long argued is damagingly absent.

Community governments and non-profits are being asked to express an interest in trying that approach.

The GNWT says the ultimate goal is to “enhance community-based aftercare, reduce the number of returns to treatment, and increase the length of time between treatments.”

Green also pointed to the establishment of a program known as a therapeutic community at Hay River’s South Mackenzie Correctional Centre.

Based on another program developed in Nanaimo, the therapeutic community – which opened in Hay River on November 5 – has space for up to 36 men serving sentences of at least three months.

The territory says inmates receive a program designed to incorporate Indigenous cultural teachings in a “structured and meaningful daily schedule to shape behaviour, create a sense of membership, teach job skills, and instil attitudes that promote empowerment.”

When people finish the program, the GNWT says they are given help finding work and housing back in their home communities as part of a six-month support program that follows their release.

“Research demonstrates that individuals who complete therapeutic community programming are less likely to re-offend, are more successful at becoming employed, experience increased social and emotional functioning, and have a quality of life,” the territorial government said in a news release last week.

“This is a place where people can obtain their sobriety while serving their sentence and can then move into a continuum of service,” said Green, who added the departments of justice, housing, health, and education were involved.

“This is an area that’s new,” the minister said. “It’s one that we’re developing and we’re very keen to receive feedback on.”

Regional centres?

Aftercare has for years been touted by NWT health ministers as a better solution for the territory’s addictions crisis than building a dedicated treatment centre.

Ministers say designing and staffing an effective NWT-based treatment centre has been tried, and has failed, several times, and nothing can replicate the level of service offered at institutions in southern Canada.

Instead, the territorial government has pledged to focus on improving the experience for people on their return from southern facilities.

Yellowknife’s wellness and recovery centre, a new facility set to open in 2024, is an example of a project viewed by the territory as an aftercare upgrade as those promised improvements gradually roll out.

But MLAs have questioned why no plan exists to build similar centres outside Yellowknife.

The short answer is that no money exists for such a project, but Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos asked Green earlier this month whether any attempt had been made to partner with an Indigenous or community government, in much the same way as the transitional housing project is envisaged.

“To this point, no Indigenous government or community organization has contacted me about this idea,” Green told Martselos.

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