The two candidates vying to represent the Frame Lake constituency in the next legislative assembly concur – homelessness is out of control in downtown Yellowknife.
The downtown situation was discussed at a candidates’ forum hosted Wednesday night at William McDonald Middle School.
Incumbent Kevin O’Reilly and challenger David Ramsay both said they’d take steps to ensure Yellowknife becomes a safer place.
“I don’t have a sliver bullet to fix it,” said Ramsay. “I think there are a lot of agencies that have to get together to find a solution.”
Ramsay said the city, territorial government, police and community members would need to come together to find a new approach.
“Whatever we’re doing right now, I know it does not work because I walk the streets of Yellowknife just like everyone in this room does. I’ve got an office downtown and I see two guys squaring off in the middle of the street at 10 a.m. That’s not normal, it shouldn’t be happening.”
Last week, a man beaten up outside the city’s sobering shelter and day centre died after being medevaced to Edmonton for treatment.
Managed alcohol program
O’Reilly said the downtown sobering centre and day shelter should consider implementing a managed alcohol program to help chronically addicted clients.
“They have worked in Thunder Bay,” he said. “It’s something we could look at here.”
A managed alcohol program works by having staff administer doses of alcohol to chronically addicted people to stave off alcohol withdrawal.
The consulting firm DPRA Canada made a similar recommendation in an evaluation of the sobering centre and day shelter, which was released last month.
The facility opened in 2018 and is funded by the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA).
The evaluation states that a lack of programs to help people cope with their addictions, such as a managed alcohol program, could be limiting the facility’s effectiveness.
O’Reilly also credited the street outreach program, which provides safe rides for individuals in need, for increasing safety downtown.
However, he acknowledged that there is room for improvement.
“Is the downtown where it should be? No,” he said.
O’Reilly suggested that moving the sobering centre away from the liquor store or moving the liquor store out of the downtown core would help.
“A lot of the violence and the things that happen downtown are people trying to get the next drink. If we can find ways to manage that better, I think we can manage the issues associated with that,” he said.
Guaranteed basic income
The candidates also discussed consensus government, the territory’s economic future and a host of other issues during the forum.
They disagreed on whether Northerners should receive a guaranteed basic income.
O’Reilly said it could be a good idea but Ramsay countered that it would discourage people from working and encourage dependency.