The issue: permanent shelter
We say: federal funding is a must have

Sheila Bassi-Kellett did something that’s not at all easy during Monday’s governance and priorities committee meeting.

The city’s senior administrator told her bosses – mayor and council – that pursuing federal funding for a permanent shelter to aid Yellowknife’s vulnerable population would put too much of a burden on staff, who are already swamped with other tasks.

The Mine Rescue Building on 49 Avenue is being used as an emergency shelter by the GNWT. It opened Nov. 6. A red fence has been erected with its neighbouring property Overlander Sports. NNSL file photo

Adding to the margin of difficulty, Bassi-Kellett made the statement in a public forum, and it’s not the first time she’s alluded to it.

Most of us don’t want to disappoint our superiors in the workplace, and we often grumble quietly to ourselves when more duties are piled on our plate. 

Bassi-Kellett is an accomplished administrator and a former GNWT senior bureaucrat. She’s very capable and surely has an informed understanding of her staff’s workloads. She could have chosen to remain silent about the work crunch, as many municipalities pass numerous motions to tackle more and more projects but then little to no progress is made on those items in the weeks and months that follow. It’s sometimes because the rank and file are buried under mountains of paperwork and unable to juggle competing demands.

Coun. Niels Konge was also forthright during Monday’s meeting. The federal funding of up to $25 million is an opportunity that the city cannot afford to pass up, Konge said. If it means prioritizing projects, then that’s what will have to be done, he said.    

“Here’s the long list of things that we have to do and this just gets moved up to the front,” said Konge. 

Sometimes it’s that simple. 

Bassi-Kellett cited the aquatic centre and a new water-intake line as a couple of the major undertakings that are preoccupying city staff. While both are multi-year projects, perhaps there are funding deadlines that won’t allow them to be temporarily cast aside. However, there must be some other assignments that can wait until after the Dec. 31 deadline to apply for the federal housing funding. Are there existing municipal employees willing to work overtime during this pinch? Once the application is submitted, could a few support staff be hired temporarily on contract if further progress requires many ongoing hours of attention to the shelter initiative?  

What Ottawa is offering is a share of a nationwide $1-billion Rapid Housing Initiative that was announced in September. It’s aimed at converting existing buildings into affordable housing for vulnerable individuals, or providing modular housing for the same purpose. 

We just endured a painful process of finding a temporary day shelter, an exercise that took far too long as close to a couple dozen proposed locations were rejected due to various impediments, or perceived drawbacks. Finally, the GNWT declared a state of emergency and took over the former SideDoor youth drop-in centre as temperatures had already dipped into the -20 C range earlier this month.  

Fortunately, Mayor Rebecca Alty signalled that city staff are being directed to draw up a shelter funding application that will generate the most points based on federal scoring criteria. It may not result in a full $25-million grant, but it will improve the odds of Yellowknife successfully being allotted a portion of the Rapid Housing Initiative money. 

While she acknowledged concerns over the commitment that city staff will make to achieve this goal, she didn’t indicate that any effort would be withheld.

That’s exactly what Yellowknifers need to know: one way or another, this potential shelter funding must come to fruition. 

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  1. Building the building is the easy part. The difficulty/challenge with the project is finding the funds for the required staffing and ongoing operation and maintenance costs. The one-time Federal funding contribution is only a small fraction of the costs as the building would have a 40 year life obsolescence.