The City of Yellowknife says it will pay for housing units and work more closely with other agencies to address homelessness in the municipality.
On Monday, councillors approved the allocation of more than $1.2 million – received from the federal Reaching Home fund in April – to three priority areas.
The city’s community advisory board on homelessness had recommended $347,545 go to the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation for an on-the-land program, firewood for ceremonies, a family and activities coordinator, equipment for food storage, and lunch and counselling services.
The advisory board also recommended $10,000 be allocated to support first aid training for street-involved individuals and cultural sensitivity training for front-line workers.
Though the territorial government had requested funding from the city to establish a temporary day shelter in Yellowknife, the remaining $806,691 will be used to purchase and possibly renovate an existing building to house youth, adults, or families experiencing homelessness.
One organization has already told the city it has a building in mind to house around 10 units for youth experiencing homelessness. The city will now open a request for proposals to all interested groups.
The Reaching Home fund requires that the facility operate for a minimum of five years and the funding be spent by the end of March.
Councillor Shauna Morgan said the advisory board supports the establishment of a temporary day shelter and agrees the city and territorial governments should be partners on the project, but did not feel that was the best use of the federal funds.
“It seems that they don’t really have a clear idea, right now, about what they’re going to do,” Morgan said of the territorial government’s day shelter plans, adding that while the GNWT has “a couple of ideas on the table,” there are so far few details on costs and timelines.
Mayor says ‘work together’ on 51 Street shelter
The territorial government established a temporary day shelter at the city-owned Mine Rescue Building in November to compensate for reduced capacity at the permanent day and sobering centre. That shelter closed last month.
The territory is now looking for another site to address gaps in services for people experiencing homelessness until a permanent wellness and recovery centre opens, which is now expected in the spring of 2024.
Once the territory has finalized a location for a permanent centre it must apply to the city for a development permit, which will be reviewed by council.
While several years away, the initial proposed site for the permanent centre – on 51 Street – is already facing opposition from some neighbouring businesses, who say they haven’t been consulted by the NWT government. The territory has requested proposals for designs but isn’t yet at the development permit stage.
When that time comes, councillors will have to consider the impact of emissions, traffic, noise, sun shadow, and wind effects on nearby properties, and whether the character and appearance of the development is compatible with the neighbourhood.
“I think it is always challenging when there’s a new development in the area,” Mayor Rebecca Alty told Cabin Radio of opposition to developments in the city. “As humans, we don’t love change.”
Alty said the city encourages developers – in this case, ultimately, the GNWT – to consult community members and address their concerns before heading to council.
“It’s tough to please everybody, to meet the needs of everybody with that one project,” she said.
“I hope that there is an opportunity for them to work together before it comes to council for review, so that both sides can hear what’s planned, can hear the concerns, and can work on ways to mitigate those concerns.”
Yellowknife’s community advisory board on homelessness has recommended that the city establish a homelessness working group with representatives from the federal, territorial, and city governments, along with non-governmental organizations.
“The hope is that we can do better working together,” Councillor Morgan said.
There has been some tension between the city and territorial government on housing projects.
The city initially rejected the territory’s request to use the Mine Rescue Building as a temporary day shelter in August 2020, saying not enough had been done to address neighbours’ concerns.
When that shelter closed, the territorial government began using space outside Aspen Apartments to house some shelter services for about one week – until it learned it did not yet have the right city-issued permit to use the site.
At the time, NWT health minister Julie Green described the incident as a ‘misunderstanding” between territorial and city staff and said the governments were “trying to get on the same page.”
Creating a homelessness commission – featuring Indigenous leaders, all levels of government, non-profits and businesses, along with an interagency council to coordinate homelessness services – was among the recommendations in Yellowknife’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, launched in 2017.