Robert Washie is furious.
He’s been upset since Wednesday, when staff at Yellowknife’s day shelter informed clients that a new policy would take effect at the end of the week.
Starting Friday, residents who have a home, a private rental or permanent living accommodations with another person will be restricted from accessing the day shelter’s services.
That apparently means people who are housed, but come to the shelter during the day for food, to socialize with friends, to make phone calls or to do laundry, will be barred from doing so.
“I was shocked, really, really shocked,” Washie told Yellowknifer during an interview outside the shelter Thursday morning.
Washie, once homeless, uses the day shelter for everyday necessities.
Both he and his wife are housed through YWCA NWT.
Under the new policy, Washie stands to lose his access to the much-needed services he uses daily.
“I depend on this place to eat, to wash my clothes. Just because I have a roof over my head doesn’t mean I have lots of food at my house. This is ridiculous,” said Washie.
“This place is for everybody.”
Washie is concerned about the policy’s impact on the community.
“This is going to hurt a lot of people,” he said. “Where are people going to go?”
Bree Denning, executive director at the Yellowknife Women’s Society, learned of the impending policy change Wednesday afternoon in an email sent by the NWT Disabilities Council, which operates the day shelter and sobering centre.
“It came out of left field for us. We had no idea it was coming. We’re really concerned about the repercussions this will have on some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” Denning told Yellowknifer.
It’s Denning’s understanding that the new rule will apply to the day shelter, not the adjoined sobering centre, but she said the email doesn’t make that entirely clear.
The NWT Disabilities Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
An effort to focus day shelter services on people who are currently experiencing homelessness is being cited as justification for the new policy, which would extend to individuals visiting Yellowknife who are housed outside of the community, said Denning.
The email cites a recent evaluation of the centre as the basis for the policy shift.
While that looks like a valid reason on the surface, Denning said it ignores the big picture when it comes to homelessness and the myriad of factors that contribute to it, including addictions, extreme poverty, mental illness and physical and cognitive disabilities.
The move stands to have far-reaching, negative consequences, said Denning.
“I’m personally concerned because it’s getting colder, so (the new policy) could result in either people getting in trouble for being in places they shouldn’t be, being outside in the cold or isolating themselves in their homes,” she said.
Many clients frequent the day shelter to meet friends and socialize, said Denning.
Even when people are housed, Denning said they can’t always go home.
If they’re intoxicated, going back to their residence can bring with it a risk of violence or noise complaints which could jeopardize their living situation, she added.
The day shelter provides the Street Outreach Van, operated by the Yellowknife Women’s Society, with a place to bring intoxicated people who are housed but can’t go home, said Denning.
“As it gets colder I really see this potentially resulting in those exposure deaths we were trying to prevent by creating the safe ride service and making sure there was a safe place where people could go to,” she said.
“A lot of people aren’t welcome home when they’re intoxicated or they try to avoid going home because they want to not become homeless again,” added Denning.
Denning said she’s already asked the NWT Disabilities Council to reverse the policy.
With Robert Washie’s access to critical services threatened, he wants to hear from elected officials in the community.
“I voted for (Mayor Rebecca Alty). She should come here and talk to us. Even MLAs should jump in and do something about these rules,” said Washie.