Lydia Bardak was walking down Franklin Avenue Sunday afternoon when she spotted over half a dozen men sitting curbside outside Yellowknife’s Salvation Army.
They’d normally be at 50 Street’s day shelter — receiving meals and accessing essential services — but the joint Sobering Center and Day Shelter has been drastically repurposed in the wake of COVID-19.
As of April 3, the building became an “isolated housing arrangement for 30 adults for 30 days,” according to an email from the NWT Disabilities Council, which operates the shelter.
That means 30 people have agreed to live on the site for a month to “ensure they are not exposed to the virus.”
This has left the joint Day Shelter and Sobering Centre at capacity. As a result, the Yellowknife Health Authority rented out a space at the Salvation Army to accommodate homeless people shut out by the centre’s 30-day lockdown.
But, according to Bardak, a longtime community advocate, and multiple clients NNSL Media spoke to, the temporary government-run day shelter, which operates separately from the Salvation Army’s 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shelter, shut its doors just days after opening after reports of a fight — causing more distress to a population already displaced by the Day Shelter and Sobering Centre’s month-long quarantine.
“If the GNWT is making a space available, they need to make that space available and not shut down for a couple of days,” Bardak told NNSL Media, who said she was “baffled” and “confused” by the temporary shut down.
Bardak said she hoped the temporary day shelter would reopen this week.
But when NNSL Media visited the Salvation Army on Monday afternoon, a long line of clients were still standing outside — with nowhere to go.
“They closed down Saturday after the incident,” a man, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
“This is the government, not the Salvation Army. They were not prepared. You’re supposed to expect the same circumstances that occur (at the Day Shelter and Sobering Centre),” he said.
“There’s still four more hours to go,” the man said, shaking his head, as he waited for the usual 7 p.m. service to open at the Salvation Army.
“If it was -30 it would be really bad. We can’t go anywhere,” he said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the GNWT’s press secretary confirmed to NNSL Media that the temporary day shelter “had to close” over “incident which put clients and staff at risk.”
It is set to be reopen as soon as possible,” stated the email.
“We have redeployed GNWT staff providing oversight and staffing and have hired casual employees to support this opening as soon as possible.”
According to the email, there are currently two shelter staff, along with a supervisor, on site.
“Additional staffing is planned to provide oversight including security resources.”