Rooms of bunk beds and a "gloomy" interior are gone. A new-look Yellowknife women's shelter, renovated thanks to cash from the NWT Housing Corporation and a diamond mine, will reopen just before Christmas.
The extensively refitted Franklin Avenue shelter now has a series of small, private bedrooms surrounding a central block comprising a large, wheelchair-accessible washroom and spacious lounge.
Dedicated rooms for healthcare professionals to assess residents are now built into the design.
"We're just thrilled. It's the culmination of years of a vision," said Bree Denning of the Yellowknife Women's Society, which operates the emergency shelter.
The housing corporation provided $750,000 in funding. Anglo American, owner of De Beers – which operates the NWT's Gahcho Kué mine – donated $250,000 and a project manager.
A second project, involving a larger donation from De Beers, is to be announced soon.
The shelter is scheduled to reopen on December 18, two months later than the initial target of reopening in October. The remodelled interior includes 16 bedrooms upstairs and eight downstairs, while sofabeds in the lounge area can be used if all rooms are taken.
Denning, the society's executive director, said the shelter's true capacity would be dictated by the fire marshal upon final inspection. "We were a 23-bed shelter before the renovation so we're keeping every single bed, with a few extra possibly," she said.
Tom Williams, president of the housing corporation, said: "I'm very impressed with the work and the new layout. I've seen how it dark it looked [prior to renovation work] with the bunk beds in the middle of the room.
"We're very, very pleased with the project."
Another project coming
The Yellowknife Women's Society has operated an emergency shelter for women since 2005. More than 200 women used the building's services last year, the group said.
The new single-occupancy bedrooms and revamped communal area are designed to provide more privacy without socially isolating people.
Security at the building has also been upgraded, including external security cameras and a 24-hour staff presence next to the building's front door.
"There's a concern that if women come intoxicated and fall or pass out, outside, we want to be able to find them really quickly before anything happens," said Denning, explaining the rationale behind the installation of cameras. "And that's also true if anyone's coming looking for someone. If they're afraid of someone, we can keep an eye out outside."
Rooms inside the renovated Yellowknife emergency women's shelter. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Pointing to the new assessment rooms, Rob Coolen – the project manager, on loan from Gahcho Kué – said: "Not everyone finds it easy to make it to a doctor's appointment, especially when it's cold outside. So, if necessary, someone can come here to do a check-up or follow up on anything.
"They're not designed for treatments by any means – the treatment is still at the hospital or another clinic. This is more just to make it easier, and to have a private space."
Up till now, medical staff have made do with whatever space was available during their weekly Tuesday visits to the shelter. Denning said the society was exploring whether the frequency of those visits could now increase, and whether RCMP could now use the facilities to conduct sexual assault assessments or interviews when required.
Photographer Bill Braden discusses renovation of the Yellowknife emergency women's shelter with housing minister Paulie Chinna. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
New programs will be launched in the communal area. "We had a huge donation of sewing machines and fabric, so we're really excited about starting a sewing program," said Denning.
The building now has an upgraded kitchen and laundry area, a better heating system, and a range of accessibility improvements.
The territorial Department of Education, Culture, and Employment ran a trades program for some of the building's residents during construction, which began in August.
"The trades component was a huge part of this," said Williams. "We wanted to have women that were living in the shelter get some exposure to trades.
"One of the clients is now working full-time in the construction industry and that, to me, is a huge success."
A tour of the renovated Yellowknife emergency women's shelter. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Williams said the housing corporation and De Beers would announce another project, also in Yellowknife, in the near future.
Without going into detail, Williams said the two organizations would work with the NWT Disabilities Council on the next project and it would involve a million-dollar donation from the mining company, plus the provision, again, of a project manager.
"It's in the works. We're just finalizing the land acquisition, and then we'll have to get to the planning stage. So we're looking forward to that," he said.