A downtown, city-owned building could soon be used as temporary day shelter space for the homeless, at the request of the Department of Health and Social Services.
Up to a few months ago, the 50 Street location, formerly known as the Mine Rescue Building, was used as a youth drop-in centre by Christian non-profit Side Door Youth Ministries. Those services are now taking place at Hope’s Haven, at 5114 52 St.
A pair of GNWT representatives who attended Monday’s governance and priorities committee meeting stated that the use of the building is intended to be an interim measure, lasting between September and March 31.
The proposed location would make up for reduced capacity due to Covid-19 at the current day shelter and sobering centre. It would offer basic necessities like food, washroom facilities, and a place for naps.
In June, the Salvation Army of Yellowknife stopped providing temporary day shelter space for about 30 to 50 people, which had been in place since April, said Sara Chorostkowski, director of mental health wellness with the Department of Health’s addictions recovery division.
The territorial government is in conversation with neighbouring property owners to get feedback on the idea. The issue is scheduled to come back to the Governance and Priorities Committee again for further discussion on Aug. 17.
The current day shelter, which is operated by the NWT Disabilities Council at 5111 50 St., has restrictions on how many people can be taken in due to the pandemic.
Chorostkowski said the GNWT has a responsibility to provide day shelter needs, and she stressed that this plan is not for the long-term.
“I think that we have an obligation to support this population,” Chorostkowski said. “I think they’re members of our community. I think there’s a fair amount of stigma around this population and I think some of that is with good reason. But, at the end of the day, we need to work with the neighbors. This is only a temporary thing, and is not a permanent location for this facility.”
Some councillors were skeptical of the idea, particularly with regards to the potential impact on small businesses in the area and the safety of families with children in the downtown core.
“There’s a lot of things that are happening on the street,” said Coun. Steve Payne. “(There is) lots of public drinking, lots of lots of fighting. We have a business (Overlander Sports) that’s going to be sharing that parking lot, and I’m quite concerned about them.”
Council heard that the GNWT is looking at installing fencing, providing some regular patrols and additional staff training. The territorial government is also cognizant of the need to foster relationships with neighbouring businesses to help mitigate some of the potential problematic behaviour, Chorostkowski said.
Coun. Niels Konge said he wants “a whole lot more information” on how the day shelter would be run and run differently from the current day shelter – an operation that he called a “colossal failure.”
“As a council, we’ve heard from neighbours in that area multiple times (that) they’ve spent thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in security cameras,” he said. “They’ve had their tenants be assaulted, verbally, physically. They’ve seen fights that go to the extent of… people passing away. And based on the information that I just received, you’re not telling me anything different on how it’s going to be run.”
Konge asked if assurances could be made – specifically the possibility of including a seven-day termination clause written within a lease – so the city would be able to quickly terminate operations if it determines the situation isn’t working.
“We didn’t have that ability at the last place, and it went on and on and on, and the neighbors were more and more irritated and it just wasn’t a good situation,” Konge said.
Administration wasn’t able to say Monday whether that’s possible, but the issue is expected to be revisited at the Governance and Priorities Committee meeting on Aug. 17. The issue is to be voted on at the Aug. 24 regular meeting.