Yellowknife city councillors were briefed on a highly-anticipated GNWT proposal to convert a vacant federal public works warehouse on 44 Street into temporary day shelter space during Monday’s governance and priorities committee meeting.

The latest proposal follows dozens of ideas that have been rejected or that have failed since June seeking to find a warm space and basic services for the city’s street-involved population during the winter months.

The need stems from Covid-19 capacity restrictions put in place at the day shelter and sobering centre by the chief public health officer earlier this year.

Most councillors didn’t indicate their positions on Monday. They will be asked to cast a final vote on the issue at a regular council meeting Nov. 9.

Councillors Shauna Morgan and Julian Morse were the only two who voiced their support for the location.

Morse made the “request that (chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola) use her power to intervene as is appropriate and immediately in downtown Yellowknife.” 

A spokesperson for the CPHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Past efforts by the city to increase capacity or make exceptions to the reduced numbers at the day shelter/sobering centre have been declined, council heard.

Mayor Rebecca Alty and councillors Stacie Smith, Cynthia Mufandaedza, Robin Williams and Steve Payne said they wouldn’t reveal how they intend to vote on the 44 Street proposal until after public consultation ends this Wednesday.

Councillors Niels Konge and Rommel Silverio recused themselves from the meeting due to conflicts of interest.

Dozens of letters both in support and opposition to the proposal came from residents.

Mayor Rebecca Alty, background, and councillors Shauna Morgan and Cynthia Mufandaedza were among those who heard a GNWT proposal for temporary day shelter space during Monday’s governance and priorities committee meeting.
NNSL file photo

Monday’s meeting followed last Thursday’s special council meeting where council approved the city seeking tender bids for temporary tent structure being built on a yet-to-be located city property.

Sara Chorostkowski, director of mental wellness and addictions recovery division; Perry Heath, director of infrastructure planning; and Jenna Scarfe, director of mental health and addiction, of the Department of Health and Social Services have been among the leading voices looking for space since June.

In September, they presented a longer list of other potential options to council for their opinion throughout the city. None of those options received approval.

They returned on Monday to explain the most recent GNWT proposal at 5009 44 St., which would provide needed additional shelter space for street-involved people.

Chorostkowski stressed that the 44 Street location appeared to be the last option after seeing at least 25 locations fail. Among them included the city-owned Mine Rescue Building – which most recently housed the Side Door Resource Youth Centre – but council voted against that proposal in late August.

“I need to remind people this is not the first location, this is not the fifth location,” Chorostkowski said. “This is the 25th location we have looked at. I am at the end of my creative rope – (44 Street) is a warehouse and not meant for this type of creative use.

Council heard from three representatives from the Yellowknife Catholic School Board opposing a temporary day shelter being located at 44 Street near the St. Patrick High School and Weledeh Catholic School complex
NNSL file photo

“When I say we have looked everywhere, we have looked everywhere.”

Council also heard from several witnesses throughout Monday afternoon – many of whom provided letters of support or opposition last week.

Among the most notable witnesses included Michael Fatt, a self-described recovering alcohol and drug addict who came out against the 44 Street building.

He said it’s a bad idea for a shelter space because of the potential for heavily-intoxicated shelter users to interact with children.

“I’m concerned about that actually,” he said when asked about the 44 Street location. “I’m an alcoholic and drug addict in recovery for six years. My issue is them (homeless people and students) running into each other.

“It would be discouraging for them (students) to see that on a daily basis. It is not a location for me to look at.”

Fatt also wasn’t in favour of the city’s temporary structure idea, but said he would like to see the Mine Rescue Building brought back for council’s consideration.

“I see a solution sitting right there at the Side Door,” he said, noting its amenities like showers and other features. “I don’t understand how you guys got so far away from that when there is already a hat-in-the-hand solution.”

Yellowknife Catholic School Board 

The Yellowknife Catholic School Board had three representatives present: trustee Tina Schauerte, St. Patrick High School principal Todd Stewart and Weledeh parent advisory committee member Kristal Melanson.

All shared similar perspectives that the 44 Street location is not safe for students.

“Nobody’s opposed to a day shelter,” Schauerte said. “It is the location.”

Coun. Steve Payne, a former St. Pat’s teacher of 13 years, said last week he was against the proposal because of safety concerns.

“If you have that 44 Street building used as a shelter, people will cut through the school walkway,” he said. “Over the years, I personally have had to escort many people out of the school. With two schools, we have a fairly high population of vulnerable students.”

Monday’s meeting also heard from several advocates of the site including from a St. Patrick High School parent who thinks the location is appropriate. Rather than seeing it as a safety concern, those in support said they saw the location as an educational opportunity for children as well as a humane and urgent response as snow and sub-zero weather is already here.

Neesha Rao, interim executive director of the Yellowknife Women’s Society, and Nick Sowsun, an organizer with the new group Concerned Yellowknife Residents for a Day Shelter Downtown, returned to implore council to support the GNWT proposal.

“I think it benefits children to see the street-involved population,” said Sowsun. “I think that, as residents, we shouldn’t be hiding it from our children. I think that children need to know about the challenges that the street-involved population face in our community, and then it’s incumbent upon us to teach them about that.”

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.