Homelessness, economy, compost: how YK is responding to Covid-19

Yellowknife City Hall
Yellowknife City Hall. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

From supporting vulnerable people and local businesses to dealing with garbage, the City of Yellowknife has revealed more details of its longer-term Covid-19 response plan. 

Senior administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett presented the City’s plans to councillors on Monday. They include creating a miniature Shop YK buy-local campaign and pushing money into initiatives to reduce homelessness. 

Appearing by video, Councillor Steve Payne expressed concern that some vulnerable people are still gathering downtown. 

Social advocate Lydia Bardak had earlier raised the same issue, telling Cabin Radio she worried that – with Yellowknife’s day shelter on 50 Street now an isolation centre for 30 people until May – others had no safe, indoor space during the day.



“The issue is there is no place for anybody to go right now. They were freezing sitting outside this morning,” Bardak said.

Bassi-Kellett told councillors the federal government is stepping in to help. Ottawa has granted the City one-time funding of $500,000 in response to Covid-19 for initiatives that reduce homelessness through Canada’s Reaching Home program.

The City also received $1,145,590 on April 1 as part of its regular funding through the same program. Bassi-Kellett said those funds will be allocated by the City’s community advisory board on homelessness.  

“We’re all very, very aware that, at this point of time, we have to take care of each other in our community,” she said.



Tenders and contracts to prop up economy

Moving to economic measures, Bassi-Kellett noted many local businesses have found creative ways to keep serving customers during the pandemic. But she said the City recognizes public health precautions pose a significant challenge to companies’ bottom lines. 

“We see so many of our amazing businesses in town really working hard to be responsive to our current context,” she said.

“It is a struggle right now, we get that.”

A focus of the City’s strategy to support the economy is continuing to provide bidding opportunities for tenders and contracts. Bassi-Kellett said the City will be flexible when it comes to timelines for these projects. 

But Councillor Niels Konge pointed out there could be challenges with workers being able to reach Yellowknife, given the territorial border remains closed to most travellers. 

Bassi-Kellett acknowledged the territory is in a “fluid environment,” adding the City will work with companies to “get their workers here to get the job done.” She noted the City’s procurement policy has a target of 85-percent local spending. 

What about compost?

Councillors had questions about the City’s solid waste management plan during the pandemic. Some residents have been critical of the City’s recent decision to temporarily stop collection of green organic waste bins.

“It’s in our DNA now to separate things,” Bassi-Kellett admitted, stating the City had to continue waste management as an essential service while prioritizing the safety of staff and residents. She said this means the City has to “press pause” on some services, temporarily.



Yellowknife-based environmental group Ecology North, in a news release, said it was working with the City to help “ease the burden on people and the landfill site.” The group is recommending people set up backyard composting bins or worm bins.   

Bassi-Kellett said City staff are working to address the increase in litter being left at outdoor facilities. 

City Hall believes it is still on-track to meet budget deadlines as the City ended 2019 in a strong financial position.

Revenues this year have been lower than expected so far and some expenditures have been higher. Bassi-Kellett said making revenues equal expenditure could be a challenge in some cases, like water bills, where fixed costs account for about 75 percent of the total cost.

Ollie Williams contributed reporting.