Downtown problem needs downtown solution

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The long search for the sobering centre’s permanent home is over.

The facility will be housed in the former Canarctic Graphics building adjacent to the Northern Lites Motel downtown which is – full disclosure – owned by Northern News Services. As well, the Safe Harbour Day Centre will also move under the sobering centre roof.

Predictably, and perhaps understandably, feedback from neighbouring businesses is resoundingly wary. Many believe the centre will make the area a hotbed of loitering, littering and public intoxication. These concerns certainly aren’t unreasonable and it’s fair to say any proposed location would be met with the same not-in-my-backyard reaction. Yellowknifer understands this, and feels for those who aren’t excited about this development.

In fact, by all accounts, the Department of Health and Social Services struggled to find a suitable space and willing landlord in a central location for almost a year. Government officials looked at a whopping 22 potential sites before settling on one.

But here’s the thing – Yellowknife’s homeless problem is unquestionably a downtown problem. The people who use the day shelter and sobering centre hang out downtown for the most part, so making sure services available to them downtown is key. It just wouldn’t make any sense to put a shelter out in Kam Lake, Old Airport Road or near the airport, where nobody can get to it.

Now that the space has been selected and the wheels are moving to get approvals and needed renovations finished as soon as possible, Yellowknifer is interested to see how things will go. The GNWT is responsible for security, and of course that includes making sure the new facility isn’t a lightning rod for neighbourhood issues.

A future step is identifying a space where homeless citizens trying to overcome addictions and alcoholism can seek shelter without having to share it with people who are not. The current shelter and sobering centre are not equipped for that.

In the meantime, hopefully the best case scenario comes to fruition – that the new day shelter and sobering centre provide good services to those who need it, and help to reduce the city’s homelessness problem overall, along with all of the other great initiatives that have been rolled out in the past year.

Council’s downtown revitalization plan deja vu

 

The road to revitalize downtown has been a long one.

Multiple iterations of city council have wrestled with the problem over multiple years with just as many false starts. Last Monday, council directed administration to develop a three-year action plan, which looks like more of the same from this vantage point.

To understand why, let’s rewind a bit. In 2011, the city decided a “Range Street” revamp was in order, so it bought a bunch of property along the infamous road and tore down the buildings sitting on them in the hopes of developing eco-housing. This never happened. Two years later, the city waded back into real estate by purchasing the 50/50 lot at the corner of Franklin Avenue and 50 Street, in the hopes of building a state-of-the-art park plaza. This plaza idea was soundly panned by Yellowknife residents and council but the purchase was approved.

The city’s new three-year action plan will include plans for these properties, along with other initiatives such as sidewalk patios, anti-littering campaigns and small-business incentives. These are all wonderful ideas but why not focus on the $1,000,000 question first – what to do with all the land the city purchased?

Yellowknifer hopes to one day see a vibrant Dene cultural centre downtown and the 50/50 lot would be the perfect place for it. As for the other lots — until the city finds a buyer, this area will remain a gaping hole in the city’s core.

Directing administration to come up with a three-year plan to revitalize downtown may have been one of Coun. Adrian Bell’s proudest moments, but the day council decides on a realistic plan for the superfluous property it owns – that’s when Yellowknifer will applaud the city.