The city is rushing its decision to construct a temporary day shelter without considering if it’s best for Yellowknife’s homeless population, according to advocates.
An emergency committee meeting on Thursday voted to release some federal funding to start seeking proposals from contractors to build a temporary structure for the day shelter.
This vote came without approval from the GNWT, who would be responsible for running the temporary day shelter if and when it is operational.
“I want to take the city at its word that it’s about trying to help people as quickly as possible,” said Neesha Rao, executive director of the Yellowknife Women’s Society. “My concern is that we have not seen that urgency from the city thus far in this process.”
A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a “competitive” process and is expected to take approximately two to three weeks to complete, according to Alison Harrower, communications advisor for the City of Yellowknife.
The vote to release funds for a temporary shelter happened before the GNWT was able to present its full proposal for the 44th Street location near St. Patrick’s school. That presentation is taking place at the city council meeting on Monday.
The goal for the Department of Health and Social Services — the department proposing the 44th Street location — “is to ensure a safe shelter option for residents, particularly in time for the cold winter months,” wrote spokesperson Damien Healy in an email.
“The GNWT appreciates the City of Yellowknife’s efforts to generate timely solutions to this need facing our community,” he added. The GNWT is looking forward to seeing what results from the City’s search for a temporary structure option and is hopeful that it will lead to a reasonable solution that meets the program and service user needs.”
In a previous interview with 100.1 Moose FM, Mayor Rebecca Alty said there had been a lot of support and opposition to the 44th Street location.
Alty previously added the city preferred a temporary structure built on city land because it wouldn’t be drawn into a lengthy appeals process that could take several months.
The committee meeting on Thursday was attended by the community advisory board. The board is supposed to have nine members: the mayor, one city councillor and seven community members, including representatives from charities and other organizations.
The meeting on Tuesday — where the emergency committee meeting was called for — was attended by four members of the board, including Rao, who said she was unaware a vote would be taking place at the Thursday meeting.
“A fair process is what leads to a proper decision. I think that this whole point about the board not being properly staffed, is actually quite important,” said Rao. “I think that it undermines the legitimacy of this decision.”
Rao also said there was little information given about the nature of the temporary structure. Currently the city does not know what the structure will look like, where it will be located, and what it will cost.
“I think that asking people experiencing homelessness, to spend the winter in a tent, when we have so many empty buildings in the city is extremely disrespectful,” said Rao. “I’m concerned that there is also very little consideration for the safety of staff who will be asked to work and attempt structure.”
Rao added staff who work in shelters or career positions are usually women and minorities.
“I think that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fault lines in our society,” she added. “I think that we saw those fault lines very clearly, in March and April. I’m afraid that as a society, we are pretending those fault lines don’t exist anymore.”
In an email statement, the city could not provide any details of the nature of the structure.
“The City cannot predict the outcome of the RFP process but would look forward to reviewing the proposals submitted and selecting the most suitable solution,” said Harrower.
The Facebook group “Concerned Yellowknife Residents for a Day Shelter Downtown” encouraged its members to write to city councillors in support of the 44th Street location being proposed by the GNWT.
“The GNWT worked very hard to identify a suitable location in the downtown area that would meet its program requirements,” wrote Nick Sowsun, one of the group’s organizers on Facebook. “The federal warehouse building, while not perfect, meets the programming requirements, is a currently constructed and empty building that is downtown and ready to be used right now.”
“We want to remind everybody that the street-involved population are our neighbours, too,” added Sowsun. “People’s lives are at risk.”
The health department added they have had a lot of public support for the 44th Street location.
“At this time, the 44th street location meets the program and service user requirements and there is no other option available to the Department,” wrote Healy in an email. “We feel strongly that the neighbour engagement process be allowed to unfold prior to making any assumptions or predictions on the outcome.”
More to come.