Good neighbour agreement with sobering centre delayed

"We can propose. We can work with our neighbours. We can't make people sign this agreement, but we think there is value in having this agreement," Abernethy says

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After missing a June deadline for a “good neighbour agreement” — which would outline shared responsibilities around the downtown Day Shelter/Sobering Centre and area residents — the territorial government has done nothing but backpedal, according to one resident.

April Desjarlais, owner of the Finn Hansen building next door to the Yellowknife day shelter and sobering centre on 50 Street.
April Desjarlais, owner of the Finn Hansen building next door to the Yellowknife day shelter and sobering centre on 50 Street.

Asked about the delay in the legislative assembly on Monday, Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy said the government shared a draft of the agreement on July 24 with relevant parties.

He said negotiations involve the GNWT, RCMP, the NWT Disabilities Council which runs the shelter, and the shelter’s neighbours.

There were plans to meet Wednesday, said April Desjarlais owner of the Finn Hansen Building.

In the legislative assembly Monday, Abernethy said a finalized draft was slated to ready this month.

Between January and June 2018, Abernethy said there have been more than 258 police foot patrols in the downtown core, and 139 in the day shelter area. Police seized or poured out alcohol 280 times. The number of patrols have “increased significantly over the years,” said Abernethy.

“We can propose. We can work with our neighbours. We can’t make people sign this agreement, but we think there is value in having this agreement,” he said.

Before asking about the agreement, Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green said the situation is nonetheless better than it was four years ago, though there is still more work to do.

During her member’s statement, she described picking up beer cans and liquor bottles almost every day and cleaning up “after someone senselessly smashed a car window.”

She said she also assisted a man injured in a fight — all within the last six months.

She listed the Street Outreach Program and sobering centre as a success and improvement.

“The sad fact is that this group of clients isn’t welcome anywhere else, because their
intoxication usually means trouble, but having this service available is better for
everyone than returning to the time when drinkers passed out anywhere and
everywhere and died of exposure,” she said.

Green, who plans to run for re-election this October, said the next step is to respond to the alcohol consumption at the root of downtown’s challenges with an action plan.

‘Nothing but backpedaling’

Desjarlais said statistics about bottles seized, or patrols walked miss the deeper root of the issue. The patrols simply increase briefly, then as public pressure drops, become less frequent, she said.

She didn’t see the exchange in the legislative assembly.

Violence and other anti-social behaviour outside the sobering centre became a major discussion point after Desjarlais took her complaints to city hall in March and posted videos of mayhem outside her building.

“What I’ve seen in the past is that they talk about ‘increased patrols’ in very vague terms, and they talk about the number of bottles that were confiscated without mentioning that it’s just a drop in the bucket and is unlikely to change behaviour,” she said.

If RCMP sustained their efforts and attempted to address public intoxication in addition to open alcohol, then it would make a difference, said Desjarlais said.

She said MLAs have seemed unwilling to take that step.

“It’s all very frustrating,” she said. “It has to be somebody’s job or it becomes an unfair burden on neighbours and on the public.”

However, she said that “despite what seemed like a lot of interest from the GNWT in entering into a good neighbour agreement in the spring, we’ve seen nothing but backpedaling since then.

“We’re still hopeful though. We have to keep trying.”

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