The legitimate concerns raised by neighbours of the combined sobering centre and day shelter housed across the street from Northern News Services Ltd. headquarters in downtown Yellowknife are well documented.

The building, once home to Canarctic Graphics, is owned by NNSL and leased to the NWT Disabilities Council, which runs the shelter.

Almost exactly a year ago an Indigenous man, Mark Poodlat, was cold-cocked from behind while standing out front, a chilling visual captured by our security cameras. He was pronounced dead in hospital.

A gathering in the front parking lot of Canarctic Graphics, which is part of the Northern News Services Limited building on 50 Street downtown, also home to Yellowknifer, on Aug. 13. The piecemeal approach to addictions treatment from the GNWT needs a re-think.
NNSL file photo

Members of the vulnerable population the centre supports hang around storefronts and street corners downtown. They stand in the entranceways to businesses and other buildings, including our own, which offers some privacy from the street and a windbreak especially useful in the winter.

This is to say that in examining the debate over a temporary new shelter that would be located at the former SideDoor shelter for youth, those opposed aren’t strictly invoking NIMBY, or Not In My Backyard. 

It’s complicated. Barring the unforeseen, city councillors will discuss the idea at a meeting Aug. 17 and are scheduled to say yea or nay Aug. 24.

That’s a tight timeline for such an important decision, but given the arrangement of the pieces on the board before Yellowknife decision-makers at this moment, the Side Door option appears to be the best of what’s around. As Sara Chorostkowski, the NWT’s director for mental illness and addiction recovery, said in a meeting Monday, the neighbours of what would be a temporary day shelter offering access to basic toiletries and a place to nap deserve to be consulted and to have their specific concerns addressed. 

The problem, which is self-evident to anyone who spends time in this part of the city, is that the pandemic has drastically limited the capacity at the current day shelter on 50 Street. The response to Covid-19 has certainly made the challenges surrounding our most vulnerable citizens more visible, but it did not create them. 

City council is faced with a difficult choice but only because there’s a yawning gap in leadership and support (cleverly directly funding, in other words) that the GNWT should be providing.

The measures taken immediately after the arrival of the pandemic and ensuing public health lockdown at the sobering centre, being the establishment of a quarantine zone and a managed alcohol program (which has since moved to the Arnica Inn), seemed to actually help some people with their addictions and lead healthier lives. This is what it was supposed to be doing, but even that is a Band-Aid solution for a territory and a city without a proper addictions treatment centre.

It’s clear the current effective practice of giving an addicted person a place to take a nap and freshen up before turning them around and sending them back out the door to start the cycle again is not working. Nor is exporting the problem to centres in Alberta.

The piecemeal, reactive approach to social service delivery in place today is no long-term solution. In fact, it may be the antithesis of one.

The pandemic has thrown a wrench in a lot of plans but it didn’t render null and void the 22 stated priorities of the 19th Legislative Assembly.

Point 18 on that document states the assembly intends to “increase the number and variety of culturally respectful, community-based mental health and addictions programs, including aftercare.”

There is no non-surgical mask that can cover this issue up, no amount of soapy water or sanitizer that can wash it away. It’s imperative that this priority not fall any closer to the bottom of this list, or off the end of it.

This government must halt once and for all the flow of Yellowknifers falling through the cracks and build and staff a properly equipped and culturally appropriate treatment centre now.

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