No other options for temporary day shelter: GNWT

A file photo of city hall in Yellowknife. (Supplied by City of Yellowknife Twitter.)
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The GNWT repeatedly told city councillors there are no other options for a temporary day shelter as they answered questions about their proposal to use the 44th Street location.

“I’m kind of at the end of my creative rope,” said Sara Chorostkowski, director of mental wellness and addictions recovery division with the Department of Health and Social Services. “This is already not — I mean, it’s a warehouse. It’s not a building meant for providing that type of service. So I think we’re already being quite creative.”

Monday’s public feedback session on the GNWT’s proposal for a temporary day shelter at the 44th Street location gave councillors, some of Yellowknife’s homeless population, and parents of students from École St. Patrick High School — near the GNWT’s proposed location for a temporary day shelter — a chance to provide feedback.

The GNWT proposed the 44th Street location, near St. Patrick after having several other proposals rejected by city council, including the building formerly used for the SideDoor youth shelter.

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Perry Heath, director of infrastructure planning with the health department, said the GNWT has reviewed 28 other locations. Chorostkowski said the GNWT had also spoken with churches — who due to COVID-19 guidelines have broadly cut back their operations — to see if space was available.

“When I say we’ve looked everywhere, we have looked everywhere,” said Chorostkowski.

The city moved ahead with its proposal to construct a temporary structure on city land, and has released some federal funds to conduct a request for proposal process, which could take several weeks.

That decision came without the GNWT giving their approval, even though they would be responsible for the operation of the shelter.

With the request for proposal — when the city reaches out to contractors to propose their designs for a project — ongoing, the city could provide little details about what the structure will look like, where it will be located, when it will be available and the project’s timeline.

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There are also questions over whether the temporary structure would have running water. Setting up a structure with trucked in water would be against Yellowknife’s bylaws, according to Heath and would be costly and impractical.

“Given the actual time of year that it is and that we’re rapidly approaching the frozen ground, it would be considerably difficult now,” said Heath.

The GNWT’s proposal for the 44th Street location would have hot food meals, access to internet, direction to other services in the area and a safe space to nap and socialize out of the cold.

The GNWT’s proposal also included mentions of security measures that would be implemented. Security guards would be posted outside the building, staff would patrol the area and a privacy fence could also be built.

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These measures were introduced to address security concerns parents of students at the nearby St. Patrick High school had raised. 

Kristal Melanson, a member of the Weledeh Parent Advisory Committee and who has two kids at the school said she was concerned about garbage like alcohol bottles and needles being discarded on school grounds, and also about the increased chances of contact having the shelter near the school will bring, especially during COVID-19.

“We’re asking you to be very cognizant about physical distancing and being safe on a playground,” Melanson. “We cannot as educators, as students, as teachers, maintain physical distancing for people that are not within our purview.”

“If people are leaving, or cutting across our school property at any time, we cannot make anyone physically distance because we have no authority over them.”

Michael Fatt, who was homeless in Yellowknife for a number of years, said having the temporary day shelter could combat the risk of discarded alcohol and drug paraphernalia.

“We need to provide the opportunity for them to have a chance to get away from that, simply because they don’t want to be there. You may not see that, but I know that fact. No one person wants to be stuck in that situation.”

Both Heath and Chorostkowski reiterated the need to proceed quickly and that 44th Street location appeared to be the best option available.

“We really need this to work out because I don’t know what else we’re going to do that’s going to meet the needs, I’m going to be safe.

Public feedback can be submitted online until Wednesday November 4. 

Councillors Shauna Morgan and Julian Morse were the only two who voiced their support for the location.

Yellowknife city council will be voting on which proposal they will be moving forward with at the next council meeting on Monday November 9.

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