Dozens of individuals with homes who use the day centre are barred today as controversial new rules come into effect.

A policy change by the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority restricts “access to Day Centre services to homeless individuals.”

The rules to access the sobering centre have not changed.

A policy change at the Yellowknife Day Centre means 66 people, 17 of them who use the centre regularly, won’t be able to anymore. Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

The Authority said in a Sunday news release the change will allow the centre to focus its limited resources on people who are “homeless and not receiving support from other community-based organizations.

“By redirecting individuals that are housed back to their own residence and/or service providers, we can create a space that is conducive to the delivery of programming specific to the needs of our clients,” the Health Authority stated in the news release.

“In implementing this policy, we also understand that we cannot abandon individuals who are not homeless who need support,” the release continued. “Over the past month the NTHSSA, NWT Disabilities Council, and many partners have been working to identify those who will be most impacted by this change. We will work hard to ensure they have the appropriate supports from the appropriate organizations, NGOs, and different levels of government who are responsible for providing assistance.”

The Authority’s release stated 66 people would be affected by the change immediately, 17 of whom “we know access the day centre on a regular, almost daily, basis.  These individuals are either self-housed or supported by some form of housing program.”

A group of about 130 homeless individuals are expected to continue to access the day centre daily, according to the Authority.

In a Facebook post, Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green expressed some skepticism that the individuals would indeed be able to find support elsewhere.

She said the the shelter is a unique service. According to her, landlords, businesses and the library will see increased disruption while the policy is in place.

“I don’t think the service providers will find alternative supports for this group because there aren’t any that provide what the day shelter provides,” she said.

When the policy change was announced on Oct. 30, sharp criticism followed, leading to a month-long delay announced on Nov. 1 that pushed implementation to Dec. 2. Green’s original concerns with the policy, however, haven’t abated.

“The message seems to be, ‘you have a house so go home and stay there.’ It’s the same message given to seniors who have been without a day program for 3 years,” Green said in her post.

For her, needs are similar between those transitioning into homes with the Housing First program, and those experiencing homelessness.

“All need hope that the future will be happier and healthier than the present,” Green said in her post.

One of the impacted centre users, Robert Washie, told NNSL Media at the time of the announcement, that he was “shocked.” He said he used the shelter for necessities like laundry and food.

Also at the time, executive director at the Yellowknife Women’s Society, Bree Denning expressed concern over the new policy.

“It came out of left field for us. We had no idea it was coming. We’re really concerned about the repercussions this will have on some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” Denning told NNSL Media.

In its statement the Authority promised to continue “monitoring the impact of the new admission policy.”

The capacity of the Day and Sobering Centre facility is 99 individuals at any given time.

The release states the combined centre has “independently and successfully housed three homeless individuals,” helped 15 others return and reintegrate into their home communities, and referred 34 people to addictions treatment programming.

Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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