The Yellowknife Women’s Centre will be renovated this summer to include single rooms, 24-hour staff support and an improved onsite clinic.
A temporary shelter facility — which the Women’s Society is still searching for — will house clients during construction. The renovation is a joint project between the NWT Housing Corporation, De Beers owner Anglo American Group, and Gahcho Kue Diamond Mine. They are contributing $350,000, $250,000 and project manager services valued at $60,000, respectively.
Monique Robitaille, chair of the Yellowknife Women’s Society, told reporters the renovations will assist the centre’s long-term clients, while addressing some of the underlying barriers to housing access.
“Homelessness in the NWT has grown over the past 30 years,” she said, adding it arises out of trauma, which gives root to substance abuse issues, domestic violence, and wider mental health issues.
Opened in 2005, the centre served roughly 200 women in 2018, and counts roughly 57 per cent of its clients from small communities, with another 37 per cent from Nunavut. “Some of them stayed one night, and some of them stayed 365 days of the year,” she said.
Many of its long-term clients have faced barriers to the rental market and a lack of mental health and substance abuse support, she said. Once completed, the renovations will include 16 single rooms, and will allow clients to pay rent, with income support access, to build a rental and credit history.
As a result of these renovations, 10 more women will soon be able to stay at the centre when move-in day arrives this October. They will also have access to improved communal space, and onsite clinic services. Demolition is scheduled for this month.
This is the first project De Beers Group has undertaken involving a vulnerable population in Canada, Gahcho Kue Mine general manager Allan Rodel told Yellowknifer. He said De Beers may also co-operate with NWT Housing Corporation on a homeless shelter project next year.
He hopes the project is “one of many” legacy projects the corporation leaves behind. Additionally, Kelly Brenton of De Beers initiated the current Women’s Centre project, with Rob Coolen acting as its project manager for the coming months.
Housing Minister Alfred Moses said he hopes this project can be a model for the private sector to work with other organizations addressing social issues.
“Private sector, Indigenous governments, NGOs, I want everybody to come to us at the NWT Housing Corporation and see what we can do to address housing needs,” he said. “This isn’t just for Yellowknife. It’s for all women that come to Yellowknife and need shelter and services.”
Capacity will go from eight to 24 beds, said Tom Williams, president and CEO of NWT Housing Corporation. There’s also a possibility of expanding programming in the renovated space, allowing an introduction and exposure to trades, he said.
He said offering wraparound supports in addition to housing — including counselling, medical support, financial management and education support — will support clients transitioning into mainstream or social housing.
“To move them into a facility where they grow and expand their knowledge, and eventually become more stable in their housing, that’s the goal,” he said.