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Dozens of letters – for and against – sent to Yk council on shelter locations

Monday's city governance and priorities promises to be a highly contentious meeting as council will be asked to approve a vacant federal public works warehouse on 44 Street for use as a conditionally permitted temporary day shelter.

A final vote will take place at the regular council meeting on Nov. 9.

Officials from the Government of the Northwest Territories Department of Health and Social Services are expected to explain a new proposal for at the building for first time on Monday. This presentation follows several efforts by the department to find a downtown location for additional temporary day shelter space due to Covid-19 restrictions at the day shelter and sobering centre.

Most notably, council rejected a proposal in August to lease space from the city-owned Mine Rescue Building – formerly the home of the Side Door Youth Resource Centre - due to strong opposition from neighbouring businesses. 

In Monday's city's committee package, which was posted to the City of Yellowknife website on Friday afternoon, there are nearly 50 letters sent to the city over the last week. Letters show both opposition and support of the warehouse – which will provide day use for 30 and 50 people up until May 30, 2021.

The anticipated meeting follows a special council meeting on Thursday afternoon when council approved the city going to tender for a temporary shelter structure at one of four city properties. That decision followed new funding that was awarded from the federal government's Reaching Home program on Oct. 23.

City council will consider a new GNWT proposal for additional day shelter space at a vacant 44 Street federal public works warehouse.
NNSL file photo

Monday's committee package appeared to show slightly more written support for the public works location than those opposing, but those who are against the idea provided strongly worded letters expressing fears that include risk to public safety, danger to children and threat  to property values.

Danielle Mager, "a parent with two teenagers who attend St. Pat's" wrote that she has "grave concerns about the site being considered." She noted that she is worried about the safety of her children.

"A friend of mine worked at the Centre Square Mall and was harassed daily, she was spit on and had blood thrown on her, I couldn't imagine something like this happening to high school students!" she wrote. "Not to mention all of the violence that took place outside the day shelter, with police cars and ambulances there almost daily. I not only have concerns about what we could be subjecting the high school students to, but I also think about the students attending the high school that maybe have parents or relatives that use the day shelter and how it would affect them."

Jennifer Lavers, another parent with two children at St. Pat's wrote a similar letter.

Erin Currie, Yellowknife Catholic School Board chair expressed extreme opposition to the proposed 44 Street public works warehouse as a temporary shelter space. 
NNSL file photo

"I beg DO NOT allow this site to move forward in such close proximity to our most prized asset, our vulnerable innocent children. Please give thought and consideration when making the decision."


Yellowknife Catholic School Board

The Yellowknife Catholic School board, which oversees the nearby St. Patrick High School/Weledeh School complex and Kimberlite Career and Technical Centre, is strongly opposed. Under the signature of chair Erin Currie, board stated it is "patently opposed to the day shelter being housed at the 44 Street location."

"Under no circumstances will we agree to the use of this location," states the letter, noting that students walk along 44 Street at all times of the day.

Two other letters came from the board - one from assistant superintendent of business Chris Cahoon with 130 signatories and one from the Weledeh Parent Advisory Committee.

Also in opposition are several Summit Condo owners, who reside on the nearby Twin Pine Hill. The condominium complex is considered a high-density area with 126 condo units.

Josee Clermont, who resides in one of the units, stated that she "strongly opposes" the idea.

"I am a woman living alone," she stated. "I walk to and from work morning and often late at night. A day
shelter for homeless on 44th Street will expose me to potentially violent and misbehaving

Many people who wrote letters, however, stated they are in support of the idea. Some of the reasons given include the need for a permanent structure, the need to have a location near the downtown, and the need to address systemic racism.

St. Patrick High School and Weledeh School are situated near a contentious location for additional day shelter proposal on 44 Street. 
NNSL file photo

Kelly Slack, who has a child at Weledeh, stated the location is a good idea because there needs to be more shelter space, a location close to downtown, and that it demonstrates a working partnership between the GNWT and the municipality.

"My child attends Weledeh Catholic School. I have no concerns about a shelter being nearby," she wrote. "One of the best parts of our school is that it is downtown. While homelessness and addictions are everywhere in our community, they are frequently visible downtown. Shelter or not – our children are seeing homelessness."

Others who approve of the idea are either students or recently graduated students from St. Patrick High School.
Jessa Garcia, who graduated from St. Patrick High School in 2015, wrote that she supports the location.

"I genuinely do not recall a single memory with someone on the street who made me feel unsafe. Rather, it was people I knew personally," she said, noting that much of her youth was spent "downtown for lunch, after school hours at A&W, and hanging out with classmates at Northern Heights.

"Many people in  Yellowknife know systemic racism is alive and well but assumptions and biases are taught by our guardians. Please consider that the people who oppose this location may not understand the lives they are putting on the line."

The committee meeting will take place on Nov. 2 at 12 p.m. and can be viewed on the city's web livestream.