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GNWT declares state of emergency, names former Side Door building as temporary shelter

Minister Chinna

Paulie Chinna, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), has declared a state of emergency Friday to settle Yellowknife’s search for a new temporary homeless shelter. 

The city-owned Mine Safety building, formerly the Side Door Youth Centre, will now house services for Yellowknife’s street involved population on a temporary basis under the enacted Emergency Management Act.

The building was first proposed as the site for the temporary shelter in August but later opposed by city council in support of local business expressing concern over disturbances the nearby shelter may cause.   

The Mine Safety building, formerly Side Door, will now serve as a temporary day shelter for the street involved population of Yellowknife. 
NNSL file photo

The GNWT said they are meeting with businesses surrounding the 49 Avenue location to come up with “mitigating measures” that address their concerns. 

She acknowledged that using the powers under the Act are “extraordinary measures,” but that the need for shelter in Yellowknife is “urgent.”

Chinna said she is optimistic that the GNWT’s application for a shelter at the 44th Street location would have been successful but that with cold weather upon us “timing has now become a significant concern and this offers an immediate solution.”

This decision means the alternate shelter considerations are no longer being considered.

The shelter is set to open in the coming days and will accommodate approximately 20 people from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.  

Minister of Health and Social Services (HSS) Julie Green said that “while there are many issues that keep (her) awake at night, this issue of how to keep the vulnerable population in Yellowknife safe from winter has been top of mind.”

She said the building is a space for people to go during the day to warm up, use the washroom and have a coffee, while capacities continue to be reduced at the current day and sobering centre on 50th Street. 

She stressed that the Side Door location is a temporary solution. 

The GNWT has “plans to create a permanent day shelter in Yellowknife that will open at some point in 2023,” she said.

The City of Yellowknife has identified 338 people experiencing homelessness in Yellowknife. To address their needs during the winter months, Green said the staff at the Department of Health and Social Services looked at 26 possible day shelter locations including government buildings, private buildings, ATCO trailers and temporary structures.  

Among possible “mitigating strategies” to address the concerns of surrounding businesses, Sara Chorostkowski with the HSS, listed dedicated patrolling staff and fencing between the shelter and nearby business. 

She said the government has reached out to businesses for consultation and that “open communication with the neighbors” will be key to the shelter’s successful implementation.

HSS will be developing a good neighbour agreement using lessons learned from the agreement from the current shelter. Chorostkowski named the importance of early intervention, having staff that understand trauma and having proper policy and protocol in place as front of mind. 

She said the shelter would have at least five employees on site at all times and possibly more depending on decisions with patrolling staff.

Paulie Chinna, Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, enacted a local state of emergency to address the need for a temporary day shelter in Yellowknife. Natalie Pressman/NNSL photo

She said mitigation strategies would inform the location’s cost and couldn’t yet comment on how much would be spent on the temporary shelter. 

The decision, Chinna said, was not made lightly but that “this approach is the best available under the circumstances.”

“While I recognize that this is not a long-term solution, this is one small step towards creating a better territory for all residents.”