The June 8 announcement that the provincial government is finally providing funding for a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week sobering centre in Thompson is good news for police and health-care workers who will hopefully no longer have to devote as much time as they have in the past to dealing with publicly intoxicated people who are a danger to themselves and others, though not really guilty of a serious criminal offence.
The need for such a facility dates back to before the Progressive Conservative government took power, so they deserve credit for making something that the previous NDP government couldn’t a reality, even if it didn’t happen until after four years in office.
Welcome as it is, the sobering centre will not do much to alleviate the problems caused by alcohol that bedevil Thompson but it will at least treat one of the symptoms – people who are drunk in public – more effectively than the current system of locking them up in the police station for at least eight hours does.
Public drunkenness is not so much a crime problem as it is a social and economic one. There are certainly people who do not have actual alcohol addictions who sometimes drink too much and become intoxicated, but if they have a home, often times it will not become a police matter unless there is a noisy party or the person who drinks too much decides to drive home. Unfortunately, many of the homeless people in Thompson do have substance abuse problems and, when they drink too much, they have no residence to stay at until they get sober. This could possibly be a danger to other people, since drunk people often act on impulses they would exercise better judgement over if they were sober, but more likely to the intoxicated person themself, as they are vulnerable to possibly being robbed or assaulted, to wandering into traffic, and also to suffering medical complications as a result of too much alcohol and any underlying medical conditions they may have.
While the RCMP have strict protocols in place to try to ensure the safety of intoxicated people in custody at their cells, they are not medical professionals or counsellors and usually have more urgent and serious calls to deal with. Presuming that the yet-to-be-established sobering centre in Thompson will likely have at least one medical professional such as a paramedic or nurse on site at all times, it should become a much quicker process for police to deal with people who are intoxicated, since they won’t have to go to the hospital and wait for the person to be seen by a doctor, which can take quite awhile, since being drunk is often a lower priority than many of the other conditions being dealt with by emergency room personnel. Similarly, the process of getting someone admitted to the sobering centre will probably be faster than it is to lodge someone in cells once they have been medically cleared, which requires itemized accounting of their possessions and, most likely, substantial paperwork.
A place for people to sober up from the effects of alcohol or drugs has long been needed in Thompson. The current provincial government deserves credit for taking action on that need, as does the current city council and administration, who have been asking for such a facility since their term began, much as other councils and mayors before them asked to no avail. Still, it is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to trying to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol in Thompson. More helpful still would be more spaces for treatment at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba Eaglewood Treatment Centre, since it is often at capacity, meaning that there may be a delay of a few months between someone deciding they want treatment for alcohol addiction and actually receiving inpatient treatment. If we are serious about wanting to reduce the harm that alcohol has in Thompson, a good next step would be trying to ensure that more people can receive the help they need when they need it and when they seek it out.