Council appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach following a sudden announcement last Friday by the Government of the Northwest Territories to declare emergency use of the city-owned Mine Rescue Building as a temporary day shelter this winter.
Council held a very brief governance priorities committee meeting and about a five-minute regular council meeting on Monday. Neither meeting had councillors commenting publicly about Municipal and Community Affairs’ Minister Paulie Chinna’s emergency decision to overtake the former SideDoor building for day shelter use.
The decision ends several weeks of council and city staff efforts to assist the territorial government in finding a location to serve Yellowknife’s street-involved community, who have limited access to the 50 Street day shelter space due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The decision came as the city was seeking business proposals for a temporary tent structure and as council was scheduled to make a decision on Monday night regarding the GNWT’s proposal to lease a 44 Street federal public works warehouse.
Chinna’s announcement on Friday appeared to alleviate any decision-making council will have on the issue.
City administrators recommended that city councillors reject the GNWT’s proposal to lease the city-owned building at their Aug. 24 council meeting following an outcry from neighbouring businesses and property owners. Most of council agreed and the idea died on the table. Councillors Julian Morse and Shauna Morgan voted against that motion, meaning they wanted to keep the door open on the former SideDoor location.
Following that vote, Coun. Morse tabled a motion to have council consider the Mine Rescue Building as a last resort should all other options sought by the GNWT fall through. Council shot that down, with Morgan and Mayor Rebecca Alty voting in the minority with Morse.
Addressing ‘everyone’s concerns’
NNSL Media contacted business owners who had opposed the Mine Rescue Building in August.
Bill Othmer, who wrote a letter as manager of the Don Cooper Building on behalf of concerned employees, said this week that there is “no impact (by the emergency declaration) at the moment.”
“In providing the information to our (b)uilding (p)artners, they understand the challenges,” Othmer stated of his building’s occupants in a Monday email. “We want to ensure the (b)uilding partners are satisfied with the measures the GNWT is undertaking. We will continue to monitor the situation and have to trust that the GNWT follows through on the measures they’ve outlined.”
Othmer had been informed about the press conference before it took place on Friday morning and then met with the GNWT that afternoon to discuss the shelter concerns.
“We believe that they are attempting to address everyone’s concerns regarding this very important issue moving forward,” he stated. “They (GNWT) reached out right away. “We look forward to working with them in this regard.”
NNSL Media also requested feedback from some city councillors.
Coun. Niels Konge, who had been among the most vocally opposed to the GNWT proposal in August with “a solid, hard no” to the Mine Rescue building shelter, declined comment this week.
Although he would not comment this week, Konge said at the Aug. 24 council meeting: “There are lots of places where this (shelter) could be and I think it was just easy for the GNWT to get a lease, move them in and not do much work and it is done and done.
“I don’t support a day shelter in that location in our city. I don’t want to leave that door even unlocked. I want it locked, shut, cement over it. Not going there.”
Coun. Robin Williams, who had also opposed the day shelter going in the Mine Rescue Building, stated on Monday that the emergency location is not ideal, but it’s now under the direction of the GNWT.
“I’m not 100 per cent happy with how the situation turned out,” he stated. “There are still concerns from the neighbourhood and surrounding businesses that have not been addressed, but in the end the need outweighed the potential impacts and the GNWT made the call.”
Williams said it appears that council’s powers are limited in this circumstance.
“In this specific case since the order came from a higher level of government, the GNWT is ultimately responsible for the action and location decision,” he stated. “I believe council will have little influence in this location as long as the state of emergency is in place.
“But once life normalizes I will continue to be an advocate for consultation, neighbourhood concerns and the business community.”