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The issue: Sobering centre sickness
We say: NWTAC departure latest symptom

What good is a good neighbour agreement if the neighbours are just going to pick up and leave?

This is the situation facing April Desjarlais, owner of the Finn Hansen Building next door the day shelter and sobering centre on 50 Street. Her anchor tenant, the Northwest Territories Association of Communities, a non-profit representing the territory’s 33 communities – most often, in its dealings with the territorial government — is looking for a new office. 

Desjarlais made waves last year with her plea to city council to do something about the mayhem taking place outside her door that was being caused by people frequenting the shelter. Last fall, the city entered into a good neighbour agreement with the shelter; its operator, the NWT Disabilities Council; its funder, the NWT Health and Social Services Authority – a  GNWT agency; the RCMP and Department of Justice; and Desjarlais and other area business owners, including Northern News Services, which owns and leases the shelter building.

The agreement pledges, among other things, to keep lines of communication open, to respect property and enhance safety in the area.

Yet, despite all this apparent goodwill, it appears the NWT Association of Communities has had enough and is now looking for another downtown yet quieter home. 

The optics are terrible. It must be noted that the organization’s vice-president is Mayor Rebecca Alty, who signed the good neighbour agreement on behalf of the city last October. She should know better than anyone that leaving now will signal that the communities association is turning its back on finding a solution to a problem all municipalities in the territory face. 

If they can’t hack it next door to a facility the city has long supported in both words and dollars, who can?

If there is going to be a shelter downtown, and most reasonable people would agree it needs one, it can’t sit in the middle of a rotted-out ghetto. It must co-inhabit with other neighbours and facilities. 

Obviously, not many businesses are going to want to be next door to a homeless shelter. That’s why the territorial government must step in and ensure property owners nearby aren’t grossly impacted by the loss of tenants. It should find some that would be suitably located near a shelter.

The Finn Hansen Building already has one that seems to fit the bill — Yellowknife Housing Authority is already located there. What about social services agencies? A medical clinic? The GNWT has the resources and the location has the clientele. 

The RCMP, also a good neighbour signatory, could also establish a storefront in the area and then there would be no doubt that the police have a presence on the street.

Governments, including our city government, must be on front lines, and our political leaders must lead them there. Otherwise, the news they’re offering, of good neighbour agreements and governmental co-operation, is a failure and the mean streets will just get meaner.

 

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