The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority says it will close its temporary day shelter in downtown Yellowknife on Monday, May 31.
The territorial government began operating the day shelter at the city-owned Mine Rescue Building in November, after taking the extraordinary step of declaring a local state of emergency in Yellowknife to commandeer the building.
Last week, city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett told councillors municipal staff had been working closely with the territorial government, which indicated it planned to use the building until the end of May. Two alternative locations were being explored.
The NWT health and social services authority confirmed to Cabin Radio it planned to vacate the Mine Rescue Building “in favour of a more suitable location for summer operations,” but gave no details on when that might happen or where the day shelter would move.
On Friday, Jack Miltenberger, a representative for the health authority, told Cabin Radio the authority was unable to provide an update until Monday. The authority, meanwhile, issued a public notice on its website stating the building would be vacated on May 31.
The update states that “further announcements will follow regarding meal distribution services and availability of other supports in the coming days.”
The temporary day shelter was needed during the winter as capacity at the permanent day and sobering centre, on another block of 50 Street, is limited due to pandemic restrictions. Under the territory’s pandemic recovery plan, capacity at indoor shelters can’t increase until phase three – which the NWT has yet to reach. (It has remained in phase two since last June.)
Users of the permanent shelter told Cabin Radio in August they worried that if another location wasn’t found, people could end up sleeping outside in frigid temperatures, with deadly consequences.
The health authority took over the Mine Rescue Building after a months-long search for a shelter location, which was hotly debated by the territorial and city governments, along with business owners and residents.
By the time freezing temperatures hit, the NWT government said it had run out of time and suitable alternatives for people experiencing homelessness to keep warm during the day.
The territory had initially asked the city in August 2020 if it could use the building over the winter, saying it was the ideal space for the day shelter. That request was rejected by city councillors, however, after nearby businesses raised concerns about having a shelter in their neighborhood.
As the clock was ticking, the territorial government considered at least 25 locations, from an Aurora College building, to a gym, and even the bowling alley, all of which had been ruled out.
In October, city councillors came up with their own solution, voting in favour of providing funding for a temporary structure on city property. That’s despite territorial health staff previously telling councillors a temporary structure would likely not meet their needs due to physical limitations, security challenges, inspection requirements, and the amount of work required to connect them to services.
The day shelter provides a place for people experiencing homelessness to get warm, eat, sleep, use the washroom, and access wifi, recreation, services and supports. Among the territory’s checklist for a location were that it was close to the downtown core, had separate washrooms for staff and users, a kitchen, a staff office and break room, and no stairs that could cause trips or falls.
By November 3, the territory had set its sights on a vacant federal building on 44 Street across from École St Patrick High School. But some residents objected to having a shelter located near a school and condos. Any appeal of that site would have delayed use of the building for at least three months.
Three days later, Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Paulie Chinna declared the local state of emergency and has renewed it every two weeks since in order to keep using the Mine Rescue Building.
The YWCA and SideDoor charities were previously granted a lease to the building to house youth and family programming. They have indicated to the city they are still interested in the space.