Yellowknife city councillors voted against the GNWT’s request to turn the former Aurora Village building into a temporary day shelter for the next three years.
At a special council meeting on Monday evening, four of the seven councillors voted against granting the GNWT a conditional use permit for the building on 4709 Franklin Avenue.
The Department of Health and Social Services chose the location in September after asking organizations in the city if there was an existing space that could be used for a temporary shelter.
But in order to go ahead, it needed approval by the City.
Those against the proposal were councillors Stacie Smith, Niels Konge, Steve Payne and Rommel Silverio.
Smith says she feels the proposal was not the right solution and that this isn’t the end of the road.
“I don’t want us to take the first handout, as we have for many years thinking that this will be the only solution that will come to us,” she adds.
Smith says not every stone has been turned as has been indicated by the GNWT. In fact she says very few actually have actually been turned.
“That in itself is very distressing, knowing that we’ve been given one part of the story and so has the public,” she adds.
Konge mentioned the lack of outdoor space as a major reason for his decision.
“The solution that the GNWT is proposing is to basically shut down one lane of Franklin avenue and use that as a parking spot for ambulances or for shelter users to go out and do what they need to do,” he adds.
Konge says it’s not a good solution at all.
Payne says his decision was made because having this solution be a three year commitment is too long a time for local businesses to weather the storm.
“If this was an eight month period, I would have no problem supporting this,” he adds.
Payne also notes that the proposed location is in a very dangerous intersection with traffic going all ways and that somebody would eventually get seriously hurt.
Silverio voiced his displeasure with the GNWT’s proposal saying the most vulnerable people in the community deserve better than another band aid solution.
Those in favor of the proposal were councillors Shauna Morgan and Juilian Morse as well as Mayor Rebecca Alty.
Morgan says by accepting the location, they could help ease people’s suffering, get people through another day, and give them a safe place that can get them moving forward with their lives.
“We have to look at what the risks are of delaying this. If people don’t have somewhere to go, what are the risks of being harmed out on the street and freezing,“ she adds.
Morgan says the risk of not doing it is must greater than the risk of going ahead with a shelter in this location.
“We have an option that is real, that is tangible and that can get up and running soon. Instead of hoping for something better that we haven’t seen, we just need to grab onto the solution that is right in front of us,” she adds.
Morse says it is his moral obligation to make decisions to protect the most vulnerable people in the community, which is why he was in favor of the location.
Morse says the impacts that could happen to businesses are not even close to being in the same category of concern as the risk to life and limb falling the most vulnerable.
“I will prioritize the needs of the people most at risk over business every single time,” he adds.
Morse says it would be extremely unfortunate and embarrassing to see council stand in the way of a solution if it ends up being the only solution that does work out.
“It would be untenable for me if in three or four months from now, we’re looking at extremely cold weather and a solution isn’t in place,” he adds.
Alty says she felt as though council wasn’t looking at the shelter application the same as they do every other application.
“On one hand, yes, we’re meant to determine whether a special care facility is an appropriate use of this location, however, we tend to get into a discussion about whether there’s a better location,” she adds.
This decision could result in a similar situation to last year when 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 after the city could not come to an agreement about where a temporary shelter should be located.