*A previous version of this story incorrectly named Councillor Cynthia Mufandaedza among those who voted to defeat the motion. Northern News Services apologizes for this inaccuracy and regrets the error.
A special meeting of Yellowknife city council on Oct. 4 defeated a motion to approve a temporary shelter to operate on Franklin Avenue and 48 Street until a permanent facility is built.
Councillors Shauna Morgan and Julian Morse and Mayor Rebecca Alty voted in support of the motion.
Councillors Stacie Smith, Niels Konge, Rommel Silverio and Steve Payne voted against it, defeating the motion four to three.
Councillor Robin Williams was present but excused from voting as he expressed a conflict of interest.
The vote followed passionate presentations from two Yellowknife residents to council about the proposed temporary site.
Both argued in earnest, though from very different points of view.
While many Yellowknifers have appealed to their neighbours in public forums to allow a safe space for all perspectives at the discussion table, presenter Paula Bauhaus said she decided to speak to council after she saw how business owners who openly oppose the proposed temporary shelter location were being treated in online forums.
“They are being bullied. They’re being harassed,” she said.
Bauhaus told council she has lived in downtown Yellowknife for 40 years and said, “We need to find a solution that works for everyone.”
Marina, who did not share her last name, told council she’s a Dene band member who graduated from Aurora College with honours and as valedictorian. She recounted the three times she found herself homeless in the city; each time as a direct result of intimate-partner violence.
While Bauhaus argued against the weight of harsh, judgemental words from other city residents online, Marina pleaded for people’s lives.
Konge said he wouldn’t support the motion, citing lack of outdoor space at the proposed temporary site and skepticism that the Health and Social Services Authority had truly exhausted all other options.
Smith said she would vote to defeat the motion, but not because she doesn’t want to help.
“I feel in my bones that this is wrong,” she said.
She appealed to Indigenous Yellowknifers to wait for a better offer, saying, “I don’t want us to take the first handout.”
She too voiced her lack of trust in the health authority’s say-so that all other options had been exhausted.
“I’m not supporting this because I’m fighting for something better for all of us,” she said.
Payne told council he wants to find a place for under-housed residents but couldn’t support the motion based on the up-to-three-year commitment for special permitted use.
“If it were eight months like the last time, I’d support it,” he said.
He echoed Smith’s sentiment that better options exist and said, “I know we’re going to come up with something.”
Morgan cautioned fellow council members to take a moment to remember their role in the process.
“We’re not building this shelter, we’re not staffing it,” she said. “We want to believe there is an option that would make everyone happy; that’s not the position we’re in. This is about getting up and running as soon as possible.”
Morse told council the decision was “very easy” for him.
Acknowledging he “lives with a lot of privilege,” Morse said he felt obligated to vote in favour of the motion because the risks to people experiencing homelessness in the winter far outweigh the concerns of objecting residents and business owners. He said the latter are “not even close to being the same category as risking life and limb.”
Alty asked members to recall how they’d gone about considering special permits in recent, previous scenarios. She used the special permit required for the Avens project development as an example, saying in that instance, council did not debate the location of the project.
“Location has been a central discussion point,” she said. “We have not previously weighed in on locations. The decision must focus on the development permit in front of us. The zoning bylaw doesn’t mandate outdoor space for special, permitted use.”
Though council defeated the motion, the Department of Health and Social Services has the power to announce a state of emergency use for whichever building it sees fit to offer the essential service without further input from neighbours.
In a town hall hosted by the health authority on Sept. 29, Health Minister Julie Green said of the Franklin Avenue and 48 Street location: “It is truly our last option. We do not have any more aces up our sleeve.”