For many Yellowknifers, the city’s public library is more than a place of learning.
It’s a warm reprieve during the winter months, a safe place to gather with friends, and a portal to crucial internet access.
But with the Yellowknife Public Library’s recent closure amid enhanced health safety measures in the fight against COVID-19, residents who rely on the space, and the services provided therein, are feeling the impacts of the indefinite shutdown, a byproduct of steps taken to keep Northerners safe in the wake of the global pandemic.
“It’s tough because it’s one of the only places people can hang out and be warm,” James Mackeinzo told NNSL Media.
He visits the library up to three times a day.
Mackeinzo said he often accesses the library’s free Wi-Fi to connect with friends over Facebook or to browse videos on YouTube.
On Monday, two days before the territorial government declared COVID-19 a public health emergency in the NWT, the city announced it would be shutting down the library, along with a host of other city-run facilities. It closed its doors on Wednesday.
For himself and residents like him who frequent the now-shuttered downtown community hub, Mackeinzo said the library is “like home.”
“Home is home, you know? Out here it’s just cold.”
To meet the needs of the city’s most vulnerable residents, the joint day shelter and sobering centre, operated by the NWT Disabilities Council, provides clients with access to internet and other essential services.
Following a policy change late last year, however, those services were limited to the city’s homeless: people with housing or other permanent living arrangements were barred from the building in a bid to serve those most in need.
One frustrated resident, who depended on the centre despite having housing, said the policy shift would drive more at-risk residents to the now-closed library.
Other residents who don’t access the shelter still rely on the library.
Christos Genovezos is one of them.
He was accessing the library’s Wi-Fi to file income taxes on Monday.
“It’s an essential part of Yellowknife. You can go on the computers, look for work, print documents – basic things. Now, because they’re shutting it down, you basically just have to stay home,” said Genovezos.
“They want us to stay in our homes and not come out, but you have to live. You have to go shopping,” continued Genovezos.
“If the library’s shut down, how come other places, like restaurants, aren’t?,” he asked.
Guy Horesay is a single father who regularly brings his kids to the library.
He kept them at home on Monday.
“I probably come here three days a week to use the internet because I don’t have it at home,” said Horesay. “(My kids) enjoy it here.”
With the library’s closure, Horesay said he’ll have to turn to radio to stay informed.
Maintaining mental health a must
Bree Denning, executive director at the Yellowknife Women’s Society, says it’s important to support residents’ affected by facility closures.
While Denning said the society-operated women’s shelter is prepared and well placed to confront COVID-19, she does have some concerns about how widening health measures will impact some of the community’s most vulnerable residents.
Isolation can exasperate mental health and addictions issues, she said.
To mitigate those risks, Denning said it’s important Yellowknifers keep tabs on people who are self-isolating or practicing social distancing to ensure their wellbeing.
The need to protect the majority of the population from the spread of Covid-19 is the primary concern. It’s unfortunate that it involves the suspension of services like the public library.
The novel coronavirus is going to be bad if it gets into Yellowknife. It will be infinitely worse if it reaches any remote communities from there.
I have a friends, colleagues and acquaintances in the NWT, YT and NU. I hope that they are all able to stay safe and protect their families. Be well.