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City removes downtown benches
Safety concerns in wake of day shelter closing leads city to remove benches in front of post office

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A week after the Dene K'o Day Shelter closed down, city administration has decided to remove the two steel benches it owns in front of the post office.

NNSL photo/graphic

Louise Beaulieu and Lydia Bardak hang out on planters in front of the post office on Monday morning. The city removed the benches in front of the building over the weekend, allegedly after several residents complained that they didn't feel safe in the area, according to the city. - Cody Punter/NNSL photo

Les Rocher of Joint Ventures Developments, the building's part owner, asked the city to take action after he received numerous complaints of people being harassed and feeling unsafe due to the increased presence of street people in the area over the past week.

The building is also owned by Denedeh Investments - a Dene-owned company representing the Sahtu, Gwich'in, Tlicho, Dehcho and Akaitcho.

"The users and the occupants of the post office weren't feeling safe while entering and exiting the building," said Dennis Kefalas, the city's senior administrative officer, adding it was his understanding the harassment had been mainly verbal.

"We have to take everyone's well-being into consideration. Everybody has rights so people should feel safe about using the (building)."

Rocher acknowledged he had approached the city after receiving complaints, but

he declined to comment further.

The bench on the corner of 50 Avenue and 50 Street across from the CIBC was also removed.

"It's not a gathering spot. There's plenty of places to sit in town," Kefalas added.

Peter Rybchinski, who works for the federal government, was dismayed to see the benches gone on Monday morning.

"During my breaks, I would come and sit on the benches and enjoy the people and the sun," he said.

This is not the first time safety concerns have led the city to target downtown benches. Last September, Coun. Niels Konge suggested the benches be removed after several sexual assaults occurred over the course of the summer.

In the end, the idea found little support among other councillors.

"Instead of sitting on the benches, they'll just sit on the ground," said Coun. Bob Brooks at the time. "I think it's a knee-jerk reaction that will do more harm than good."

This time around, councillors did not debate the issue nor vote on the matter before the benches were removed.

Kefalas said the decision did not require council's approval.

There is also a request for the planters in front of the post office to be removed, said Kefalas. However, he said this option is currently being reserved "as a last resort."

"We do want to keep the planters there because they do enhance the area," he said.

There are plans to put up a metal railing to deter people from sitting on the raised concrete gardens.

"What's the purpose of the planter, to act as a bench

or to act as a planter?" he asked.

"The whole idea of planters is to provide a garden space. So with people sitting on the planters, it ends up having a negative impact on the gardens."

Louise Beaulieu, who used to be homeless but has now been sober for 14 years and lives in Dettah, was relaxing on one of the planters on Monday morning. She said it's unfair to blame street people for hanging out in the front of the post office.

"I don't think it's right," she said. "They must feel left out and abandoned.

"This is a free country, we should be able to sit anywhere."

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