Following recent controversy over the Sobering Centre on 50 Street, its users shared their voice at a breakfast in the Northern United Place Tuesday.
The NWT Disabilities Council organized the event, which aims to be a forum for homeless people to present their concerns to the wider city. Ahead of the event, a private notice was sent to the RCMP, the city, and the Department of Health and Social Services, inviting them to attend and listen to the discussion. It was a closed door function.
The organizers served breakfast alongside the forum, while taking notes on the discussion. Local entrepreneur Trevor Kasteel mediated it as “a small piece” of the conversation.
He said the event is not being approached from the standpoint of a conflict, but everyone being “equal at the table and “listened to.” Shelter users are simply being added to the discussion to find a solution, he explained.
“When you’re building a bar, you need to ask the bartender how to build the bar,” he said. “There’s been a lot of talk and a lot of strife and a lot of conflict. Where are the homeless in this? Where are the patrons using the Sobering Centre? Where’s their voice?”
He said the forum is also concerned with finding solutions to its challenges.
“We need to approach this as positively and constructively as possible. We need to show compassion,” he said. “We need to show we care not only about the homeless and people that are at the shelter, but also care about the business community and the community as a whole.”
“We’ll get to a solution,” he said.
Since the Sobering Centre opened, over 900 individuals have used the location as of April. At city council last month, the RCMP said that calls reporting social disorder – which make up roughly half of its calls for service – dropped by 21 per cent. Similarly, there were 35 per cent fewer alcohol-related related ambulance rides since 2016, according to an April 8 Yellowknifer article. Hospital visits also fell by 28 per cent.
This decrease followed the implementation of initiatives included in the 10-year action plan to end homelessness in Yellowknife.
Nonetheless, controversy emerged after neighbours reported violence and regular disturbances outside the Sobering Centre, with disagreements spilling over into social media and the centre’s location being called into question.
The Tuesday breakfast aims to bring community members together to discuss steps forward.
Kasteel said “it only make sense” to hear firsthand from the homeless patrons of the centre, if that’s the source of conflict. He added that Tuesday’s breakfast was only the first step, and would require further action, saying that there had to be accountability on the part of shelter users “to be part of the solution.”
“This thing is just going to rear its ugly head again and what are we doing?” he said. “Action needs to happen. Action needs to take place and we need to do things differently and we need to find a solution.”
“People are hurting and they deserve better than that.”