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As NWT Covid-19 measures loosen, limits remain at shelters


The number of people allowed to gather indoors in the NWT increased eightfold on Tuesday, but some critical services still have strict capacity limits.

The territory’s chief public health officer this week increased pandemic caps on indoor gatherings from 25 to 200 people, save for events deemed higher-risk like funerals and live music, which must still seek special permission.

However, health officials said smaller caps may remain for now at facilities serving people considered to be at higher risk from Covid-19, including jails, long-term care and healthcare facilities, and shelters.

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Dr AnneMarie Pegg, the territory’s medical director, said the NWT government is working with those facilities to determine when they can safely ease restrictions. She said the sobering centre in Yellowknife “will likely soon be resuming pre-pandemic levels.” 

“For the day shelters, we are still looking at how best to ensure safety both for users of those shelters and for staff,” she said. “This is a population that is a pocket of vulnerability with regards to vaccination coverage.”

Two weeks ago, NWT health minister Julie Green said she was “looking forward” to the relaxation of indoor gathering restrictions so capacity at shelters could increase across the territory.

Since the temporary day shelter in Yellowknife shut down on June 1, and as capacity is reduced at the permanent day shelter and sobering centre, there has been a gap in services for people experiencing homelessness in the city. Some residents have said that is “unacceptable.”

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Public notices regarding the suspension of temporary shelter services outside Aspen Apartments. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio

The territory had been hosting limited services in the parking lot of Aspen Apartments but, less than two weeks after that began, the temporary shelter was shut down following what Green called a “misunderstanding” about the permitting process. At least one resident then submitted an appeal of the city-issued permit the NWT government needed to use the space.

As earlier reported by CKLB, the territory’s health and social services authority has since withdrawn its application for that permit. Jack Miltenberger, a spokesperson for the authority, told Cabin Radio that’s because even if the territory won the appeal, due to the length of the appeals process, the permit wouldn’t be issued until the end of the summer. 

Under territorial legislation, residents have two weeks to file an appeal of a municipal development permit. If an appeal is approved, the development appeal board has to hold a hearing within 30 days, then has an additional 60 days to make a decision.

As the territory has withdrawn its request for an Aspen Apartments permit, the city’s deputy clerk told Cabin Radio the appeal hearing scheduled for July 14 has been cancelled. 

Territory pushes back opening of new shelter 

Since November, the territorial government has said it plans to build a new permanent day shelter in Yellowknife by 2023 to expand support for people experiencing homelessness. It has set its sights on a vacant lot on 51 Street pending city approval and the resolution of any appeals. 

The health and social services authority recently told CKLB, however, that the shelter is now projected to open in the spring of 2024. 

Miltenberger told Cabin Radio the timeline for construction has not yet been finalized but the pandemic and pressure on territorial resources has contributed to the deadline being pushed back. 

“We are hopeful that we can improve on the spring of 2024 target date,” Miltenberger said by email. 

Miltenberger said the territory is now consulting staff and clients about the services to be offered at the new shelter.

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