Responsibility for operating the Thompson Healing Centre on the corner of Princeton Drive and Station Road will pass from the Canadian Mental Health Association to an Indigenous organization, the CBC reported May 3.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, a non-profit political advocacy group that represents about two dozen northern Manitoba First Nations, will take over operating the shelter, which includes longer-term housing for people with nowhere else to stay as well as emergency overnight accommodations like those that used to be provided at the Thompson homeless shelter on Churchill Drive.
The transfer of responsibility is planned to take place in August and MKO is working to develop a long-desired sobering centre in Thompson, which will provide an alternative to detaining people in the Thompson RCMP detachment’s three communal cells for intoxicated people.
“I’m very hopeful. I’m excited,” MKO executive director Kelvin Lynxleg told the CBC, adding that there was some reluctance on the part of some of the many organizations working to create a sobering centre in Thompson about locking people in rooms until they sobered up. Lynxleg said she understood the concerns and hoped that having an Indigenous organization in charge would make that easier to accept, given that about 90 per cent of people identified as homeless in previous point-int-time counts in Thompson said they are Indigenous.
The healing centre opened in October of last year, but the facility was not exactly as envisioned when the provincial government announced in 2020 that it was providing $2,8 million to establish a sobering centre in Thompson. Existing shelter arrangements previously provided at the homeless shelter downtown were transferred to the healing centre and expanded to include more permanent housing options. This program currently has space for 45 residents, about two-thirds of which were expected to be occupied immediately, when the centre opened last Oct. 13.
The eventual goal for the sobering centre, as outlined when the provincial government announced funding for such a facility, is to provide an alternative to taking publicly intoxicated people to the RCMP detachment drunk tanks or for treatment at the Thompson General Hospital if they aren’t medically fit to be placed in police cells. The goal of this type of a facility will be to relive the amount of strain that alcohol use, abuse and addiction currently place on police and the emergency department.
The RCMP detachment housed nearly 2,500 people under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act in 2020. Prior to each of these people being lodged in cells, they had to be medically cleared at the hospital or by Thompson firefighter/paramedics. At Winnipeg’s Main Street North facility, people detained for public intoxication are examined by an on-site paramedic who either admits them or sends to them to the hospital for treatment. Those who are admitted are housed there until they are sober enough to be released.
Despite the requirement for medical clearance and safety protocols such as checking on prisoners every 15 minutes and physically waking them up every four hours, two people housed in Thompson RCMP detachment cells have died since February 2020, following a 12-year-period in which no such deaths occurred.
The Thompson Healing Centre is open 24 hours a day and doesn’t require the people who stay there to be sober,
Mayor Colleen Smook told the CBC that she acknowledges that the centre may have opened prematurely but that the city and the CMHA wanted to have it up and running before winter because the city’s homeless population has increased. She has previously said that businesses in the area have been in contact with the city about problems related to the shelter’s relocation.
The building that houses the centre, which was transferred from provincial ownership to the city along with two adjacent buildings, will need renovations before it can offer sobering centre services Concerns were raised when the buildings were transferred to the city to house the planned sobering centre because it is directly across the street from the grounds of Wapanohk Community School.
Some of the money that the province provided to the City of Thompson in order to open a sobering centre will be used to hire a project co-ordinator to oversee renovations but the $2.8 million currently remains in trust and wont'be released until firmer plans are in place, Smook told the CBC.
Thompson RCMP can take intoxicated people to the healing centre now, but only with their permission. Once it is designated as a sobering centre, they will be able to take people there who are too intoxicated to give their permission.
Northern Regional Health Authority experts told the CBC that an estimated one-third of Thompson’s 13,000 residents struggle with addictions and the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba Eaglewood Treatment Centre at the south end of Princeton Drive can treat up to 260 people a year, but often has 100 people on its waiting list.
“There’s so many people out there who have issues who aren’t coming forward yet,” treatment centre director Gisele deMeulles told the CBC.
With most of Northern Manitoba ’s population being Indigenous, there are complex layers of grief, including Intergenerational trauma, for many of those with addictions, she said.