The city-owned building on the corner of 50 Street and 49 Avenue previously housed SideDoor's youth centre. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
The Northwest Territories government is hoping to get the City of Yellowknife’s approval to use one of its buildings to house a temporary day shelter for residents of the city experiencing homelessness, NNSL first reported on Tuesday.
The city-owned building on the corner of 50 Street and 49 Avenue was formerly home to SideDoor’s youth centre. SideDoor Ministry’s lease agreement with the city expired on April 30, and the building is currently open for bidding proposals.
“We’re very hopeful that this is something that can move forward because we really feel that at this particular point in time, we don’t have a lot of other options to make sure we can meet the needs of this population,” Sarah Chorostkowski, a director with the territorial Department of Health and Social Services, told city councillors on Monday.
The NWT government began running a temporary day shelter out of space provided by the Salvation Army when the permanent day shelter and sobering centre was used as an isolation centre for about 30 people in April. In May, the permanent shelter returned to its regular use, but at a reduced capacity due to social distancing requirements.
Chorostkowski said the temporary day shelter is still serving between 30 to 50 people, but the NWT government’s agreement with the Salvation Army is coming to an end. She said they looked “high and low” for alternative locations and the city-owned building is the only one that meets their needs.
“We feel that it’s a really positive option for us to be able to continue to offer this day shelter possibility for folks, especially with the fact that it’s already middle of August and the cold weather is coming and Covid is continuing to be a factor for us,” she said.
Sarah Chorostkowski discussed the NWT government’s plans with Yellowknife city councillors via videoconference.
“It’s been going quite well and it’s definitely a program that has obviously been meeting the needs of the target population.”
The territory hopes to run the day shelter out of the building on 50 Street from September until the end of March. It will provide three meals a day along with snacks, and a place where people can use the washroom, sleep during the day, watch movies, and play games like chess and crib.
Niels Konge said neighbours of the permanent shelter have told city council they’ve spent thousands of dollars on security equipment and had tenants who were verbally and physically assaulted. He noted that one man died in hospital following an incident outside of the building.
“At this point, based on what I’ve seen, it’s a flat no,” Konge said of the NWT government’s request. “There’s nothing there that tells me it’s going to be any better than what is currently happening in the city and I am not prepared to allow a decision of council to ruin another block of Yellowknife.”
Konge said if the city does grant the proposal, he would like to see an option where they could terminate the lease agreement within a week if issues arise.
Niels Konge stands in Cabin Radio’s reception in September 2018. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Councillors Stacie Smith and Cynthia Mufandaedza also raised concerns about the location of the proposed shelter, saying it’s an area of the city where there are several small businesses that are frequented by families.
“I take my kids and I know a lot of people take their kids for a walk without any hesitation, but we also would like to make sure that that is maintained,” Mufandaedza said. “We don’t want to see what’s happened in other locations where things have just been let to go.”
Chorostkowski said the NWT government understands people’s concerns and plans to develop a relationship with neighbouring businesses to work together to address any issues. She also noted the government does not run the permanent shelter.
She said if the city does not approve the proposal, there will be nowhere else for people to go and they may have to go into businesses to get warm.
“We need to find a way to work with each other to make this work because I think, as much as people don’t want us in their backyard, the alternative is that people are going to be in their backyard regardless,” she said.
“We have an obligation to support this population, I think they’re members of our community, I think there’s a fair amount of stigma that does exist around this population, and I think some of that is with good reason.”
Patrols, fencing and staff training
Health and Social Services manager Tracey Pope said shelter staff have been given extensive training and will do regular patrols outside of the shelter. She said they are also considering putting up a fence around the building, and plan on dealing with issues early on before they escalate, including frequent calls to the RCMP if needed.
Pope noted that after the shelter was set up at the Salvation Army location, there were fewer calls to the RCMP over time. Shelter users also respected the space after a meeting where they were informed about their rights and responsibilities.
“I think that when you treat people with respect, I think you get respect,” Chorostkowski added.
Councillors asked the territorial government to provide more information about how they plan to mitigate any potential issues in the neighbourhood.
Neighbouring businesses and other Yellowknife residents can submit comments about the territory’s proposal to their city councillors. Councillors will discuss feedback next week and vote on the proposal the following Monday.