The NWT government plans to build a combined day shelter and sobering centre in a vacant lot on 51 Street in downtown Yellowknife.
The territory has recommended the build take place in a lot near the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre. The City of Yellowknife will conduct consultations before considering a permit for the chosen location, the NWT government said.
“We’re going to focus our efforts on this one for now,” said Perry Heath, director of infrastructure planning for the NWT’s Department of Health and Social Services. “This is where we’d like to go.”
Heath said he had heard repeatedly that securing a downtown location is important.
Jason Brinson, executive director of the Salvation Army in Yellowknife, agreed.
“What I know from the feedback we get from people who use our services is that they enjoy being in the downtown area,” Brinson said.
The footprint of the new shelter will be more than twice the size of the existing 50 Street centre and the temporary shelter at the Mine Rescue Building combined.
The day centre will offer access to basic services like bathrooms, showers, and laundry for people who are experiencing homelessness. The sobering centre will take a harm reduction approach to support people who are intoxicated.
The new facility will expand existing community health services to include cultural activities like smudging and crafts. It will also introduce a primary healthcare exam.
“We’re hopeful we could be in construction as early as next summer,” said Heath. “It really will depend on how the permit goes, what contractor we get, the design team – but we’re hopeful.”
Heath said the project could be complete by 2023. The department said it would not disclose its construction budget to keep bids competitive.
Two shelters have operated in Yellowknife since early November, when the territorial government opened a temporary shelter after declaring a localized state of emergency in the city.
Located at the former home of the SideDoor youth support centre, the temporary shelter has housed people displaced from the 50 Street location by Covid-19 protocols that limit its capacity.
The 50 Street shelter has in the past faced scrutiny over reports of violence in its vicinity and complaints from neighbouring businesses. Former employees have alleged inadequate training, a lack of management accountability, and unsafe working conditions. Those concerns are now being investigated by the territorial government.
The NWT Disabilities Council has operated the shelter under a contract with the NWT Health and Social Services Authority since it opened in 2018.
The City of Yellowknife had nobody available for comment on the proposed location of the new facility.