Some Yellowknifers advocating for more shelter space for the city’s most vulnerable populations have penned an open letter to businesses to petition them for support, Sept. 24.
“We are a group of concerned Yellowknife residents calling on Yellowknife businesses to support the establishment of a day shelter in downtown Yellowknife at the Franklin (Avenue) and 48 (Street) location,” the document reads.
It also states that petitioners may choose to boycott businesses who oppose the shelter.
More than 200 Yellowknifers have signed the petition so far, and the list is growing. The document was presented to the municipal Governance and Priorities Committee, Sept. 27.
Nick Sowsun, founder of the Facebook group Concerned Yellowknife Residents for a Day Shelter Downtown, said he started the online page last year when the city faced a similar crunch housing people experiencing homelessness in the winter months.
He said he and other concerned residents decided to write the letter a week ago to bring local businesses to the discussion table as winter looms.
As one of the organizers of the petition, he said community support for the downtown shelter has been “pretty amazing.”
“Public concern is growing,” he said.
He said the group is working on compiling a list of businesses who support a downtown shelter that they can present at the next city council meeting, Oct. 4.
Some local businesses have been critical of the location, saying if the proposed site at Franklin Avenue and 48 Street goes ahead, their business will suffer.
Christine Wenman owns PlanIt North and co-owns Sundog Trading Post in Yellowknife. She said she signed the petition because it’s important to her that businesses who support a downtown shelter are heard.
“It really makes me sad that it’s seen as a dichotomy between supporting businesses and supporting people experiencing homelessness,” she said. “I hope we can start to shift the conversation from them versus us… I think there’s room to come together.”
She said small businesses have been through a lot and that it’s important to “make space for the concerned voices.”
“I would like to see the GNWT create space for the discussion,” she said. “Why did this discussion not take place months ago?”
Sowsun agrees, telling Yellowknifer “there is a massive planning failure.”
“It comes down to priorities,” he said.