The Yellowknife Women’s Society will temporarily house clients at the old Safe Harbour day shelter on 49 Street while its facility on Franklin Avenue undergoes renovations.
On July 22, city council passed a motion that granted the society conditionally permitted use of the building, provided it enter into a good neighbour agreement and that the move lasts no longer than six months.
A good neighbour agreement sets out protocols and procedure to mitigate possible negative effects on nearby businesses and residences.
The shelter’s users will be moved to the downtown facility on Aug. 10.
One business owner came before council to express concerns about the building being chosen and its location.
Patrick Scott, part owner of the Birchwood Coffee Ko, which is right next door to the temporary shelter, said the move could impact his business. He harkened back to when the building was a drop-in centre for the city’s homeless before it was replaced by Yellowknife’s new joint sobering centre and day shelter in September 2018.
“We did not have any major incidents, however it did have a big impact on business,” said Scott. “Since the day shelter closed, our business revenues have increased substantially. Now I didn’t have a huge problem with the people using the day centre and I personally won’t have a problem with the women staying there … but I know my customers obviously will have and have had.”
Though Scott did not agree with the location and choice of building, which he called “despicable and trashy,” he did not disagree with council’s decision.
“I know these women need a place to stay,” said Scott. “I will not stand here and object to it. I know they are more important than our business. They’re trying to put their lives back together.”
Scott said it is important that we “heal our community.”
Coun. Stacie Smith, another downtown business owner, said she understands the struggle of running a business downtown and called the location for the shelter a ”danger zone.”
“I personally think they couldn’t have found a more dilapidated and unsuitable building to house women,” said Smith. “You’re putting an emergency shelter where there is a liquor store, where there is a sobering centre in a business driven area and it’s going to drive business away and that’s not, as a city, what our initial plan for revitalization was.”
When it came down to a vote for councillors, the motion to approve the permit for the shelter was passed but not unanimously.
Smith opposed the motion from a “business perspective.”
“When Mr. Scott came and presented to us he was very sincere in the fact that it will impact local business as we are a city that is trying to grow and revitalize and aid our small businesses,” said Smith. “I find it very disheartening that we would approve a permit such as this regardless of its temporary four to six month permitted use.”
Not an ideal location
Since announcing the renovations, the women’s shelter has been looking at alternative places to house its clients. The old Safe Harbour building on 49 Street was the best choice.
“It’s not a care facility, or sobering centre or a day facility,” said Rob Coolen, project manager for the society’s renovation work. “The women who stay at the women’s centre now, which will be about 20, a lot of them live there and call that their home and participate in cleaning and cooking and small maintenance things.”
Coolen mentioned staff would be increased at the temporary shelter to help the women. Security cameras will also be installed.
Coun. Robin Williams asked whether other buildings had been considered and why the society settled on the downtown location.
“We did look around town quite a bit and weren’t able to find anywhere that not only suited our needs but is logistically viable,” said Coolen.
“It’s not an ideal location, we fully understand that, we did try to look very hard for something that would work.”
When asked by Coun. Cynthia Mufandaedza if a good neighbour agreement would be possible, Coolen said they “absolutely would be on board with that.”
Coun. Niels Konge said it would be imperative for the tenants to enter into a good neighbour agreement, similar to one being proposed between the operators of the downtown day shelter and nearby businesses.
“I think it’s an important thing to talk with neighbours about these types of uses, I think they’re a little out of the norm for what we envisioned for downtown,” said Konge.