June 18, 2013 - 12:38 PM
Premier Christy Clark was all ears when she made a visit with Kelowna's city councillors last week. Of the three top priorities council shared with Clark, sobering up downtown Kelowna was one of them.
Along with high profile projects like the extension of Highway 33 and the centralization of Interior Health offices, they discussed the idea of opening a sobering centre – a place where those intoxicated and deemed a public risk, could spend the night under supervision. Mayor Walter Gray says there's a strong need for it in Kelowna.
Essentially it's a place for somebody who's had too much to drink on a Saturday night, Gray says.
"These may be people who haven't committed a crime, or broken a law, but they are being a nuisance in a public place,” he says.
Currently police decide whether the individual should be arrested under the criminal code or taken to the emergency ward, depending on their level of intoxication.
In some cases an officer could end up spending their whole shift at the hospital, obligated to monitor the individual. RCMP spokesperson Const. Kris Clark says officers must take drunken individuals to the hospital if they are unable to care for themselves or have lost consciousness, and cannot leave until a doctor releases the patient.
“It's definitely a drain on police resources to have a member sitting at the hospital, for essentially an intoxicated person,” Clark says.
And it would also reduce the burden on hospital staff and wait times. It would prevent intoxicated individuals from filling up a seat in the emergency room where, “someone with a serious injury might get bumped” he says.
A sobering centre would offer twenty-four seven surveillance by professionals capable of dealing with medical emergencies. Whereas a jail cell is supervised by guards, who don't necessarily have the medical knowledge to prevent an emergency in custody.
“It's potentially a really good addition to the entire framework...it's likely a very cost effective system,” Clark says.
Municipal cost savings for the hospital and policing (of which the city pays 90 per cent) would also be felt provincially Gray says, which was part of the City's pitch to Premier Clark last week.
“The province should be able to see some tremendous saving within health care and the RCMP in terms of efficiency for the officers,” he says.
And Kelowna has other examples to look to, including Surrey and Victoria where their centres, “operate very, very successfully,” Gray says. Vancouver Island's sobering centre in Victoria offers 20 beds to individuals referred by police, the hospital as well as walk-ins.
While there's no site picked out yet, Gray says it would likely be downtown and close to the new RCMP headquarters.
“We would have to consider most of the complaints originate from, say, downtown Kelowna...it has to be convenient to police,” he says.
It would likely be stationed at an adjacent property, and distanced from residential neighbourhoods.
It's also possible the centre would partner with Interior Health's new addiction treatment centre to be announced later this month. The centre could service people also suffering from drug abuse but most cases would likely be alcohol related, Clark says.
“It's the most readily accessible substance, it's pretty much everywhere...what's available seems to be abused the most,” he says.
How long before the facility becomes a reality?
Plans are moving swiftlly, and over the past year city council has broached the subject with the solicitor general and local MLA's.
“Probably within the next year and a half it might be a reality, at least if not up and operating it would be well underway.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at email@example.com or call (250)718-0428.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013