'Have a heart': Advocates, health minister urge Yellowknifers to support downtown shelter

·4 min read
The N.W.T. health minister is pleading with the public to support a temporary day shelter on Franklin Avenue. 'There are no other options left to explore,' Julie Green wrote in an open letter Monday. (Graham Shishkov/CBC - image credit)
The N.W.T. health minister is pleading with the public to support a temporary day shelter on Franklin Avenue. 'There are no other options left to explore,' Julie Green wrote in an open letter Monday. (Graham Shishkov/CBC - image credit)

If just one resident, one business or the city of Yellowknife opposes the "only" suitable proposed day shelter location, unhoused residents displaced by the latest COVID-19 outbreak will be cut off from the services they need most, according to Health Minister Julie Green.

In an open letter published Monday, and anticipating public opposition, Green implored residents to support the establishment of a temporary day shelter by October in the former Legion building on Franklin Ave.

"There are no other options left to explore," wrote Green.

She said Yellowknifers should show the same solidarity when it comes to the shelter, as they did when they marched this summer in honour of children who died at residential school.

Avery Zingel/CBC
Avery Zingel/CBC

At a march in June, a woman who is homeless in Yellowknife, wept into the microphone about her daily struggle to find a place. The premier and several support people encircled the woman, consoling her.

By August, she was still sleeping rough.

"Now is not the time to look away from the homeless, the grieving, the addicted. Now is the time for concrete acts of reconciliation," Green said in her letter.

Tripling current capacity

More than 70 of the city's 121 COVID-19 cases are in the underhoused population or work with them, the territory's chief public health officer confirmed Tuesday.

The proposed new day shelter could accommodate 60 people under COVID-19 restrictions, three times as many as the existing day shelter.

The day shelter is not just a place to warm up and be fed, it's a hub for health care, mental health services and resources for people with symptoms on how to get tested, and find safe isolation spaces, Green wrote.

The last time a shelter was proposed on 44th Street, people sent letters to the city opposing the shelter based on safety concerns and the suggestion that people without homes would drive down property values.

CBC
CBC

Outside the post office on Monday, Peter T'Seleie sits with his grandfather, a shelter user who goes by the name Sticker.

T'Seleie has his own place through Housing First, a program that houses people who might otherwise be homeless. He said before the outbreak, people were being turned away from the existing shelter.

With outbreak-related closures, "some of them probably walked around all night cause there's no place to go."

"They wait for the day shelter to open so they can relax, have a tea," he said. "It's getting cold out."

CBC
CBC

Kathy Hobbs, who works downtown, said getting a shelter in place is "essential."

Rejecting downtown locations is "unfair," she said, because unhoused people are also a part of the community.

A day shelter is needed because between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., shelter users must vacate overnight facilities.

Michael Fatt, an advocate and employer for people who are homeless, said the shelter closures have people "captive" to the streets.

Fatt said if more people are taking shelter in doorways, businesses and stairwells, it's not a choice — it's out of "desperation."

He said anyone considering opposing a facility should "have a heart."

"We've been here for years…. It's not like you're going to get rid of them by closing the door," he said.

"This is our city, right? These are our people."

CBC
CBC

Lloyd Thrasher has used the shelter and says its downtown location is "easily accessible and everybody needs it."

"Usually everybody down here that needs the centre is right beside here in front of the post office or nearby the Centre Square Mall, so it'd probably be the perfect location."

Asked what he thinks of people who have previously opposed shelter locations, Thrasher said, "I think that's racist."

Decision Oct. 4

The community arena will serve as a temporary shelter until the territorial government's Franklin Avenue shelter plans are decided.

The plan will be discussed at a city committee on Sept. 27. Council will have the opportunity to approve it on Oct. 4.

The city will soon update its zoning bylaw to make special care facilities a permitted use in the downtown, skipping the step to require council approval.

If that change is made, in the future, the public will have 14 days to comment after a facility is approved.

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