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GNWT takes ‘unprecedented move,’ declares YK emergency to turn Side Door into temporary shelter

Housing minister Paulie Chinna declared a public emergency in Yellowknife and announced the former location of the Side Door youth group would be turned into a temporary day shelter.

The shelter should be ready within a number of days, according to GNWT staff.

The emergency was declared under the Emergency Management Act in order to address the “urgent need” for a temporary day shelter, according to Chinna. The emergency applies only to Yellowknife and will last for 14 days, from November 6 to November 19.

This means the GNWT has withdrawn its application to turn the old federal warehouse building on 44th Street, near St. Patrick’s high school into a temporary day shelter. The city has also withdrawn the request for proposals process it had begun, and the federal money which had been set aside for the RFP process will be spent elsewhere.

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Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty called the move “unprecedented” in a press conference Friday afternoon, but said the territory’s move to declare an emergency was welcomed by the city.

“The zoning bylaw and the Community Planning and Development Act are very strict, they don’t recognize an emergency situation,” said Alty. “So the Emergency Management Act is there in case of emergency. And that’s what we feel is so we appreciate the opportunity to use this legislative tool.”

The city has been considering a temporary structure for the day shelter, partly because building it on city land would have avoided a potential lengthy appeals process.

City councillors had previously rejected the Mine Safety building, which formerly housed the Side Door youth group, because of safety concerns and concerns about how it would impact businesses.

Alty said the GNWT had “mitigated concerns” city councillors had raised. 

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The security measures are similar to the ones that would have been implemented at the 44th Street location. 

These include security guards stationed outside the building throughout its hours, a fence put up between the Side Door building and the parking lot used by Overlander Sports and regular patrols done by staff.

Five staff will be working at the shelter at all times. 

The territory has already reached out to local businesses and will be meeting with some today, according to Sara Chorostkowski, director of mental wellness and addictions recovery division with the Department of Health and Social Services. 

The health department hopes to sign a Good Neighbour Agreement with nearby businesses.

Chorostkowski added the costs will depend on the security measures implemented, but said the changes needed to get the Side Door location operational are minimal.

The state of emergency can be renewed, but currently there are no plans to implement any changes other than turning the Side Door location into a temporary day shelter, according to the head of the Emergency Management Organization, Ivan Russell.

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Chinna added the GNWT didn’t “make this decision lightly.”

Both health minister Julie Green and Chinna emphasized this is not a permanent solution. Green announced that the GNWT would implement a permanent day shelter sometime in 2023.

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