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Kamloops council to consider sobering centre business case

Staff is asking for funding of up to $30,000 to update a business case and submit it to B.C. government
A cell in the Kamloops RCMP Battle Street detachment. Following the death of an inebriated man in a cell in March 2019, an investigation that followed led to the conclusion that police lockups are not the proper place to deal with people with substance-use issues.

Kamloops council is being asked to authorize funding of up to $30,000 to develop an updated business case for a sobering and assessment centre in the city.

The money would come from the municipality’s gambling reserve fund, with the business case being submitted to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

Council will receive the report at the Tuesday, May 30, meeting.

The city sent a similar business case to the Ministry of Health in March 2016, but nothing came of the request.

Sobering centres are facilities that offer short-term (less than 24 hours) shelter, medical supervision for people under the influence of or in withdrawal from alcohol and/or other drugs. Currently, people who are acutely intoxicated and require assessment and sobering often end up in emergency rooms, in jail cells or in shelters.

In the staff report, it is noted that sobering centres provide an alternative option for people suffering from addictions and can help people toward detox and withdrawal management and, subsequently, to longer-term services and supports, such as intensive treatment, therapy, counselling and supportive recovery) on the pathway to recovery.

The staff report said redirecting intoxicated people to sobering centres also reduces pressure on hospital emergency rooms, jail cells and shelters. People can access sobering centres on their own and can also be referred by police or hospital staff.

Sobering centres exist in several communities, including Victoria, Campbell River, Surrey, Duncan and Prince George. Sobering and assessment centres usually operate and can be accessed between 12 and 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

“Despite years of advocacy efforts by council, a facility has not been established to date,” the staff report states.

At the 2022 Union of BC Municipalities convention, then-mental health and addictions minister Sheila Malcolmson asked that the city submit a business case to her ministry. Three months later, Malcolmson was replaced as minister by Jennifer Whiteside.

In February, Day One Society executive director Sian Lewis said her organization wants to host such a facility within its Phoenix Centre, located behind Royal Inland Hospital. Lewis described that as the most cost-efficient option and one that makes sense in terms of the flow of service.

Lewis said Day One foresees the service operating with medical supports 12 hours overnight — opening at 7 p.m. and closing at 7 a.m. the next morning — with people given an opportunity to move to a detox bed if they so choose.

She noted situations involving aggressive intoxicated people being held in RCMP cells and charged would still occur, but said the centre would serve people who have not been involved with police and simply need a safe place to spend the night.

Lewis said while people can be immediately admitted to a sobering centre, there’s a triage process in place for detox that is more intense, one that involves gathering plenty of medical information.

Lewis said up to 85 per cent of people who participate in Day One’s detox program complete it within five to nine days. The program has 20 beds and is adding another five beds for youth.

Council has had repeated discussions about sobering centres in recent years, following the March 13, 2019, death of Randy Lampreau. The 49-year-old died in a Kamloops RCMP cell of a health condition, with the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. finding the actions of police during his time in custody fell within the standard of care expected. He had been arrested on March 12, 2019, after police were called to deal with an apparently intoxicated man who was refusing to leave a downtown business.

When the IIOBC report into Lampreau’s death was released in July 2019, his sister-in-law, Lenora Starr, said the family was “dissatisfied” with the RCMP’s policies and procedures for the types of situations in which her brother found himself and would like to see them addressed, particularly by finding better ways to care for intoxicated individuals rather than putting them in jail.

His death also spurred the BC Civil Liberties Association to repeat its call for the provincial government to add more sobering centres throughout B.C.