Workers rally to meet tight timelines for temporary day shelter in Yellowknife

·3 min read
Yellowknife's temporary day shelter is being put together at the former Visitors' Centre site. It's scheduled to be open at the end of November although the exact date hasn't been determined. (April Hudson/CBC - image credit)
Yellowknife's temporary day shelter is being put together at the former Visitors' Centre site. It's scheduled to be open at the end of November although the exact date hasn't been determined. (April Hudson/CBC - image credit)

Workers are putting the final touches on a series of structures that will act as a temporary day shelter in downtown Yellowknife.

The shelter is expected to open at the end of November at the former Visitors' Centre site, though no exact date has been determined. It's comprised of six modular buildings that came from a work camp for the Tłı̨chǫ Highway construction project.

The modular units were put in place by crane on Oct. 12 and 13. Now, workers are on-site hooking up electrical services, doing some mechanical work and constructing an entryway between two sets of the units.

Peter Houweling, the co-owner of Kavanaugh Brothers Limited, said it's been a whirlwind to get the structures in place so quickly.

When the government of the Northwest Territories was looking for solutions last month to the lack of shelter space in the city, Kavanaugh was the company that floated the idea of bringing in modular units, even though construction of this sort isn't their specialty.

"It's a bit of a surreal project, to be honest ... I just really have a lot of heartfelt feelings for the importance that it brings," Houweling said.

'Crunch time'

Getting this shelter together this late in the year means it was a 'rush job,' but Houweling said that didn't deter workers and contractors from prioritizing it above their other work.

"We're at the end of the construction season, which is typically crunch time. For everyone to say, 'Yep, no, we will make it work,' — whether that's other clients being understanding that there's a rush job that needs support more than their project — that's where the whole community aspect comes in," he explained.

" All the little changes and sacrifices that get made behind the scenes are always the important ones."

That's despite what he described as a worker shortage in the construction industry, and material shortages that have made it tougher to get even basic supplies like bathtubs and showers.

"A lot of creativity has been brought to the table in securing materials," he said.

Systemic changes needed, says MLA

Seeing the shelter take shape has been exciting for Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly, in whose riding the shelter is being built.

O'Reilly said he's heard nothing but good things from residents who are eager to see the shelter open.

But the work doesn't stop there — O'Reilly said the Northwest Territories government is still looking at ways to open a more permanent facility.

He noted there are many services that could be bolstered to help people in need, including improvements to income assistance and integrated case management.

"We do also want to see some progress made on more systemic change, so people can get the help that they need and get engaged in the workforce and so on," he said.

"I personally would like to see a basic income pilot in the Northwest Territories as a more systemic way of providing assistance to people, and I think we need better addictions treatment systems put in place as well. So there's lots of other work that needs to be done."

Municipal Affairs Minister Shane Thompson announced on Nov. 16 that he was extending the state of emergency in Yellowknife until Nov. 29. That state of emergency was originally brought in so the government could establish the shelter at the former Visitors' Centre site.

Information about what needs to happen for the state of emergency to end and next steps for the government was not available by publication time.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting