Editorial: Imperfect start for sobering centre still a step in the right direction

The fact that the city had to take possession of two other buildings from the provincial government in order to acquire the one that will eventually house the sobering centre is not ideal. Nor is the need for some renovations and repairs to the building to make it suitable. The land transfer taxes and subdivision fees that the city will have to pay would be better if they weren’t a reality. Despite all these drawbacks, however, bringing the sobering centre closer to fruition is a positive step.

In an ideal world, Thompson wouldn’t need a sobering centre, or community safety officers, or be housing 2,000-plus intoxicated people a year in RCMP detachment cells. But this isn’t an ideal world. It’s the real one. And in the real one, all those things are true and undeniable.

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Coun. Earl Colbourne said at the April 26 council meeting when the transfer of the former University College of the North campus buildings and a project agreement with the province were approved by his colleagues that having a sobering centre wouldn’t fix the city’s problems. And he’s right. It won’t. But what makes up what is sometimes euphemistically referred to as Thompson’s downtown issue (alcohol addiction and public intoxication issue would be more on point) are real people with real problems who need real help and real safety and the fact that it isn’t a perfect solution doesn’t justify allowing them to suffer unnecessarily or maybe even die while the city waits for a better option to come along.

It takes a lot of police resources to pick up intoxicated people, have them medically cleared and then lodge them in the detachment cells. While that process is going on, the officers aren’t available to respond to more serious calls. Although the detachment made changes years ago after an intoxicated person being detained there died, it didn’t keep it from happening again, just a couple of years ago. And for the most part, the police don’t have the time or training to talk to the people picked up for being drunk or to provide them with anything except a mostly safe, if spartan, place to wait until the effects fo alcohol wear off.

As mentioned at the outset, the circumstances might not be ideal, but the current city council and the current provincial government deserve some credit for making the sobering centre in Thompson a priority. Local politicians have been asking the province for a decade at least to help it establish a Main Street North, based on the Main Street program in Winnipeg. Once all the legal details are worked out and an operational plan established, alcohol-addicted people in Thompson will have somewhere that’s probably going to be nicer than a jail cell to stay until they sober up, with access to agencies who can help them, if they want it. It’s only a small step in the right direction, but it’s a step that no previous council can say they managed, though some of their lobbying undoubtedly helped it to become a concrete project, even if it took until they were no longer in office for it to happen.

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