The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce has called out Health Minister Julie Green for “vilifying” businesses who are raising concerns about the GNWT choosing the old Aurora Village office building as the location for a new temporary day shelter.
“Your language makes clear that you intend on vilifying any opposition to your decision,” YK Chamber Executive Director Deneen Everett wrote in a letter addressed to Green.
“Business owners have valid objections to your decision and they deserve to be heard; this is why the appeals process exists,” she added. “You should not seek to undermine that process. Your rhetoric is an ugly attempt to drive a wedge between business owners and the well-meaning residents of Yellowknife.”
The location was chosen by the GNWT.
In an open letter, Green said the building — which most recently was the office for Aurora Village — had been picked after the territorial government asked organizations in the city if there was an existing space that could be used for a temporary shelter.
The Sobering Centre has closed until further notice after a number of staff were impacted by COVID-19 exposures at the facility. Yellowknife is currently in the midst of an outbreak affecting underhoused and vulnerable community members.
Now, Green said, approval of the location is down to the city, who would have to approve a permit for setting up a temporary day shelter, similar to the process that the city underwent last year.
City council had a hard time finalizing a location for a temporary day shelter last year, with businesses and parents at nearby schools voicing their opposition to several locations.
Eventually, then Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Paulie Chinna had to declare a public emergency to clear the Mine Resources building to house a new temporary day shelter.
Last year, the temporary day shelter only opened the first week of November.
The GNWT said they were working on a permanent new day shelter which would expand the capacity of the city to offer services to Yellowknife’s underhoused population, who currently can only get services out of the Sobering Centre run by the Disabilities Council.
The health department had shortlisted a vacant lot on 51st Street as a location for a new, permanent day and overnight shelter. The plan is for the space to accommodate 99 people in total, with 60 people able to use the day shelter at a time, as well as 30 overnight beds.
The territorial government has funding to build it, but construction will only begin on that project in 2024.
In her letter, Everett criticized the GNWT for not providing funding sooner for a new shelter.
“Promising to start construction of a new facility in 2024 gives the lie to your assertion that this is a priority for your government,” she added.
“Instead, you have chosen to pass on the responsibility of a permanent solution over to the next government and place the short-term burden disproportionately on downtown business owners, many of whom are already struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.