The Northwest Territories government says temporary shelter services outside Aspen Apartments in Yellowknife will continue to be suspended as the permit to use the space is being appealed.
After the temporary day shelter at Yellowknife’s Mine Rescue Building closed on June 1, the NWT government began using an area outside Aspen Apartments to offer meals, a space under canopies for people to socialize and eat, and portable washrooms.
Those services were abruptly halted one week later, however, as the territory learned it didn’t yet have the necessary city-issued permit to use the space.
While the City of Yellowknife had granted the temporary use permit, there is a mandatory two-week waiting period for residents and businesses to review it and submit appeals. The waiting period for the Aspen Apartments permit ended on Tuesday.
According to a Wednesday news release from the territorial government, the city’s development appeal board has received and allowed an appeal of the permit. The appeal board now has 30 days to hold a hearing, then an additional 60 days to decide whether to approve, cancel, or modify the permit.
The territorial government said people experiencing homelessness in Yellowknife can still access takeout meals at the city’s permanent downtown day shelter on 50 Street. Washrooms and showers are available at the shelter and the Salvation Army.
A complaint from one resident was shared with Cabin Radio while the Aspen Apartments services were still operating. In that email, the resident told the city they were concerned about the site’s proximity to nearby residential units.
“All of the duplex housing behind Aspen Apartments have children of various ages where backyards back up onto this fenced area,” the resident wrote.
“I realize homelessness is a problem, however, not all homeless individuals are harmless. Is this residential area really an appropriate choice? Were other options even considered? Or was this too left to the last minute?”
The resident did not respond to Cabin Radio’s request for comment.
It is not clear whether the formal appeal came from the same resident, another resident, or multiple people.
The temporary day shelter initially opened in November as capacity at the permanent day shelter and sobering centre is limited due to pandemic restrictions. The territorial government said it is “looking forward” to the relaxation of those rules, which will reduce the need for additional shelter space.
The territory added it is “working proactively” to find a location for a temporary shelter if one is needed when temperatures drop again.
Under the territory’s revised pandemic recovery plan, indoor gatherings will be allowed to increase once the territory has reached 66 to 75-percent full vaccination coverage or 75-percent partial vaccination coverage.
Advocates for Yellowknife’s street-involved population have questioned why city and territorial officials were not able to come up with a solution sooner.
Nick Sowsun, founder of the Facebook group Concerned Yellowknife Residents for a Day Shelter Downtown, pointed to a disconnect between hundreds of people – including government officials – attending a recent march to honour residential school victims, and the continued gaps in services for those affected by that legacy.
“The planning is all being done at the last minute and then, when something goes wrong, the government and the city point fingers at each other and they blame each other,” he previously told Cabin Radio.
“In my view, they both share some of the blame. But where does it really get us? The whole approach, in my view, needs to change.”
When services at Aspen Apartments were initially halted, health minister Julie Green pointed to differing responsibilities between the municipal and territorial governments, saying they don’t “have the same view of the homeless population” but are working to “get on the same page.”
Mayor Rebecca Alty, meanwhile, said the city is following the permitting process mandated by territorial legislation. Alty said the territorial government had rejected alternatives proposed by the city.