Brandon looking for operator for 24/7 sobering centre ahead of expected 2025 opening

The City of Brandon is looking for someone to run operations at a first of its kind space in southwestern Manitoba that will give non-violent, publicly intoxicated people to stay while the effects of drugs or alcohol wear off.

The city issued a request for expressions of interest in early July for potential operators for the planned Brandon sobering centre, in preparation for opening a fully staffed facility in mid-2025.

“It’s really ready to move forward,” said Shannon Saltarelli, the City of Brandon’s community housing and wellness co-ordinator.

“We want to make sure that we really have the right fit and that we have … a substantial amount of time to go through this sort of procurement process.”

The provincial government pledged $2 million to create the Brandon sobering centre in 2021 and later an annual operating budget of $1.5 million from the province’s Department of Justice.

A group of people walk together wearing ribbon shirts and purple shirts.
Shannon Saltarelli, the City of Brandon’s community housing and wellness co-ordinator, says the province is providing a $1.5 million annual operating budget for the sobering centre. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

The hope is to have an operator for the centre in place by the fall, Saltarelli said, since they’ll need time to hire staff, develop a service model and establish community partnerships before the opening.

The custom-designed space will be located on the same site as the John Howard Society of Brandon transitional housing program on McGregor Avenue and 16th Street North. While the buildings will share property, they will have separate operators, Saltarelli said.

Antoinette Gravel-Ouellette, co-chair of Brandon’s Community Wellness Collaborative — a group that brings agencies together to find strategies to tackle core community issues — says Brandon is a “small town with more big city complex needs,” including a sobering centre.

Since funding was announced, issues with mental health and addiction have increased, meaning a safe place for people that isn’t a hospital or holding cell is badly needed, she said.

The Brandon Police Service’s 2023 strategic plan review said the service held 1,968 people in detention in 2023 — including 774 people under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both substances. 

“This is one of the pieces that I think is really about helping our community members move forward in their lives with dignity and respect and support,” Gravel-Ouellette said.

How a sobering centre works

Currently, if someone is picked up under Manitoba’s Intoxicated Persons Detention Act, which allows officers to detain someone if they are intoxicated and police fear they are a danger to themselves or others, they are taken to the hospital or a holding cell, Saltarelli said.

When the centre opens, people referred through the act, as well as those who come voluntaril or under supportive referrals, will be able to go there instead.

“This is not a long-term stay facility, but it is a place for people to go to get sober,” Saltarelli said.

The operator chosen for the project will provide a year-round, 24/7 sobering support service, with space for up to 15 people.

Gravel-Ouellette says having an operator from the community could be a positive, because they would know the players at the table and the issues in Brandon, and have existing relationships within the community.

A woman stands by trees with purple ribbons representing overdose deaths.
Community Wellness Collaborative co-chair Antoinette Gravel-Ouellette says the sobering centre is a piece of the puzzle to help meet Brandon’s mental health and addiction needs. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

But both she and Saltarelli said an organization from outside Brandon could have benefits too.

“We would love to see interest from outside of Brandon,” Saltarelli said.

Gravel-Ouellette said an outside operator might bring fresh perspectives.

She hopes the operator will be able to collaborate with their neighbours in the transitional housing program and other community agencies, as they work to help people.

“For each of those components, the transitional house or the sobering centre, it’s all about meeting people where they’re at and supporting them with where they are, which is to me what all of those supports do,” Gravel-Ouellette said.