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The YWCA NWT is still recovering after a fire decimated Rockhill Apartments containing its transitional housing facility and offices on October 2.

Last week, Yellowknifer reported on the claims of former Rockhill residents who said they hadn’t received adequate help from the YWCA after the fire.

The aftermath of the Rockhill fire earlier this year. Dylan Short/NNSL photo

Alayna Ward, director of community relations for the YWCA, said those claims should have been verified, and the coverage of the issue has affected staff.

“These are people that have been through major trauma, including the staff, so yeah obviously it has affected them particularly when it’s untrue and unverified for the most part,” said Ward, of the media coverage.

The stories that should be told are those of families who have triumphed in the face of adversity, she said. But Ward said she was unable to specify which parts of the media coverage were untrue without breaching client confidentiality.

“There’s not any information I can give you specifically about clients, so I can’t give you information about clients and what has or has not been provided,” she said.
Ward did say that former Rockhill residents received giftcards, meat boxes and groceries, and nearly $100,000 in furniture was purchased for families.

Focus on families

In the aftermath of the fire, much of the focus has been on children and families with children.

“Some people have like three, four, five children, so their lives were completely uprooted,” said Ward. A single parent with multiple children has different needs than a single person, for obvious reasons, she said.

“Because there are children involved. When you are trying to clothe and feed three children they have higher needs than a single person just by virtue of the numbers,” said Ward.

Now that tenants are housed across the city rather than in one central location, it is more challenging to communicate with everyone, she said.

But the former Rockhill tenants lost more than just their belongings in the fire.

“People not only lost their homes, they lost their sense of community. And they lost that support that was provided when they could just pad down the hallway in their socks and speak to the housing staff, now they can’t,” said Ward.

The community outpouring of support after the fire was fantastic, Ward said and she answered calls and emails for 16 hours the day of and after the fire. Community and corporate donations resulted in over $238,000 raised to support those affected by the fire.

“But if you think about it, in the grand scheme of things, $238,000 for almost a hundred people, if you think about that realistically, how much is that really supposed to cover when it has to stretch throughout the winter?” said Ward.

“So I mean a hundred thousand dollars in furniture and then some grocery giftcards, and some charges that are related to getting people resettled into their homes. Which I will say, the YWCA pretty much had the sole responsibility of doing.”

The Rockhill building did not have sprinklers, because when it was built, they were not required, but it did have functioning fire alarms, said Ward.
“It had what it needed to have to pass safety inspection,” she said. The facility was provided to the YWCA by the GNWT and leased to them for the nominal fee of one dollar a year. But because the YWCA did not own the building, any insurance money will go to the GNWT. The only thing covered by insurance were objects in the YWCA’s offices, like computers.

“So essentially it was donated and the revenues that were generated there from the rent ran the housing program,” said Ward. That revenue also helped cover utilities and pay housing staff. Last year the YWCA generated $1,048,258 from home and apartment rentals which represent 23 per cent of its revenue, the organization’s 2016-17 Annual Report states.

In that same year, housing programs accounted for 35 per cent of the YWCA’s costs for a total of $1,489,246.

Now that former Rockhill tenants have moved into market housing, the YWCA no longer has access to that funding to cover its expenses. The YWCA has a total of 112 staff, 29 of whom are full time, including the seven full time housing staff. The remaining majority of staff are part-time or casual, like their after-school program leaders. The YWCA is now using its reserves to pay their staff, operate the housing program and pay rent for tenants now in market housing, which is about $600 higher than what they paid at Rockhill

“The YWCA pays the landlord on the first of every month, and then works with clients so that they can pay that rent back in whatever amounts that they can via different payment mechanisms,” said Ward.

Their reserve funds will allow them to survive until March 31, said YWCA’s executive director Lyda Fuller, in an email.

“We estimate a half year of lost revenue for Rockhill (October 2018 to March 2019) could approach $350,000,” stated Fuller, adding that many costs are also eliminated without the building.

The Y will have the numbers on how much of its reserves have been used up sometime this week, after the first full month of the tenants being in market housing, said Ward.

“It is expected that there will be a significant gap,” she said. “So the Y pays out say, $100,000 a month to the landlord and then recoups those costs in whatever capacity, from the clients. So there will be a gap there, and that gap will continue.”

The next steps

Since the YWCA is a charity, and doesn’t have unlimited funds, the reserves will inevitably run dry at some point, said Ward. So the next steps for the YWCA will need to include a major influx of funding.

“That needs to come from a government level,” said Ward. They will also need another large building to replace Rockhill in order for the housing program to operate as it did before the fire.

“And then the rents will support the housing program like it did before,” she said.

The conversation to secure a new building is ongoing. The president and executive director of the YWCA has met with the federal housing minister in Ottawa, and have been in discussions with MP Michael McLeod about possible solutions.

“While we’re hopeful, nothing has been cast in stone yet, or any solutions found yet. But that needs to come from the government level,” said Ward.

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Meaghan Richens

Meaghan Richens is from Ottawa, Ont., and grew up in Perth. She moved to Yellowknife in May 2018 after completing her bachelor’s degree in journalism at Carleton University. She writes about politics,...

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