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'Death penalty' for homeless without shelter: Bardak

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Most day shelter users are not ready to seek treatment and those who are, are referred to programs offered by other groups around Yellowknife, said Lydia Bardak, executive director of the John Howard Society.

"Do I think people should be left to freeze out in the cold because they are homeless, drunk and disabled?" asked Bardak. "I think the death penalty for being a substance abuser is a bit harsh. So, I would rather keep people safe and warm, even if they're not ready to make any changes in their life."

There are two rules at the day shelter: no booze and no violence. When Yellowknifer visited the shelter Monday morning, rule No. 1 was in action as Bardak patted down a client, revealing a bottle of alcohol hidden under his coat. The exchange went well. The client knew he had broken the rule and knew what the consequences were: pour it out or leave.

If visitors were forced to take treatment classes or counselling, fewer people would attend and more would spend the day in other public places downtown, said a client from Taloyoak, who asked not to be named.

"I'm sure glad it's open because it can get really cold out there," he said.

Any clients who are ready to seek treatment are referred to the Tree of Peace or the withdrawal management program at the Salvation Army, said Bardak.

"We're not going to deliver (addictions) programs that are already offered in the community because that would really be silly," she said.

"The day shelter, this is a lifeline for a lot of people," said Clayton, another client. "(If it closes) there would be a lot of lost people, and quite honestly, there might be a couple of deaths."

Some day shelter clients are not allowed inside any of the city's overnight shelters, said Clayton, adding he has physically carried people who are sleeping on the street in -40 C temperatures to the Salvation Army so they don't freeze to death overnight.

"A lot of us are indigenous to the area and used to live out on the land," he said. "But should we have to live like this?"

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