Yellowknife’s new joint sobering centre and day shelter officially opened this morning.

The newly renovated building is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The day centre is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., while the sobering centre is open from 10 a.m. to 8 a.m. daily.

“This has been an incredibly long journey,” says Minister of Health and Social Services, Glen Abernethy. Years ago when Yellowknife’s first day shelter opened behind Harley’s, that was just a step in a process, he says.

“We then moved to the facility that closed just the other day, which was also a step in the process,” says Minister Abernethy. “Neither of these buildings were the right buildings. We knew when we moved into them that they were what was available at the time, and we were desperate to be able to provide some meaningful programming for people and a safe warm place for people to stay during the day.”

That has evolved to the point where they’re now providing a place for people to sleep during the evening as well, he says.

“But what we wanted to get to was a program that offered more than just a safe place to sleep or a safe place to be sober, but a place where people can actually start a healing journey,” Abernethy says.

The new centre boasts more staff, bathroom, shower and laundry facilities and will feature programming such as group therapy to help clients work on healing, anger management and building healthy relationships.

“This is actually about healing, about the healing process and creating opportunities for those who want to heal, to heal,” Abernethy says.

Alfred Moses, Minister Responsible for Addressing Homelessness says the new centre can be used as a template for helping the homeless in other communities, such as Behchoko, Inuvik and Hay River.

“We can take this same model and hopefully address homelessness right across the Northwest Territories,” says Moses.

“And when we talk about homelessness, we talk about all the issues around it such as mental health, addictions. And I know that this sobering centre, with the services and service providers that are going to be working here, is going to have a big impact on the people here in the city of Yellowknife.”

MLA for Yellowknife Center Julie Green thanked Minister Abernethy for his work on the new centre, in the face of landlords who didn’t want to rent to him and locals who didn’t want the facility near them, she says.

“We’re about three and a half years from the last exposure death in Yellowknife. That was a real catalyst to come to terms with intoxicated people downtown and to provide them with a safe and a warm place to sober up,” Green says.

Inspector Alex Laporte, officer in charge of the Yellowknife RCMP detachment says today’s opening is “huge.”

“If you go back a few years ago, we were one of the sole providers to those clients and many of the instances it was not a criminal behaviour so it was not a police matter,” Laporte says.

The City of Yellowknife reported a reduction in alcohol and drug-related ambulance calls since the sobering centre opened at its temporary location at the Salvation Army last November. The RCMP and the Stanton Territorial Hospital ER also reported reductions of “inappropriate use of their services and resources,” according to a fact sheet from the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) and the City of Yellowknife.

Now that there are services like these, the RCMP’s services are less solicited for non-criminal situations, says Laporte.

“It allows the police to actually focus on criminal matters and let the experts provide the right services to people who need them,” he says.