Health and Social Service (HSS) officials said in a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday night that they hadn’t originally planned to need a temporary day shelter this year.
For the second year in a row, the municipal and territorial government scramble to find a space for the most vulnerable, while businesses complain they weren’t consulted and the homeless sit on the sidelines awaiting their fate.
Perry Heath, director of infrastructure planning for the HSS, described the Delta Variant as a “curveball” to the departments plans.
“In March we thought that we were going to be in position with vaccines that we didn’t need a temporary shelter anymore,” he said.
The temporary shelter is necessary as a result of COVID restrictions that limit the number of users able to access the current shelter. A permanent shelter has been in the works, but will not be complete for another couple years.
Heath said the department investigated over 30 locations for the temporary shelter and decided the Aurora Village building at 4709 Franklin Ave. was the best option.
“We understand that this is in a very busy part of Yellowknife and we understand that the whole community really is going to have to come together and make this work,” Heath said.
Several business owners in the area have issued letters against the proposed site. The majority of complaints state they worry about the impact to their businesses that have already been struggling as a result of COVID-19. As well as complaints that territorial government has not consulted them enough.
However, Sara Chorostkowski, HSS director of mental health and addiction recovery, presented the mitigation plans and discussed the success of last years temporary shelter at the Old Mine Rescue building. A similar situation arose where businesses opposed the location originally, but very few issues were reported once the shelter opened.
The town hall included a brief speech by territorial health minister Julie Green, but the majority of the presentation was detailed plans for the shelter conducted by Heath and Chorostkowski.
“The goal is to ensure that individuals who are experiencing homelessness have a safe, warm place to sleep, and have their other basic needs for food washrooms, and hygiene met,” Chorostowski said.
There was also a presentation by Michael Fatt, an artist and coordinator of Common Ground, a temporary employment service for people experiencing homelessness.
“I see winter is right around the corner I’m worried for my family and friends who are on the streets, we’ve been through this before and we’ve lost people,” he said. “I’m here to appeal to people’s hearts and hopefully open some minds.”
Fatt is a 60’s scoop survivor originally from Łutsel K’e who was at one time homeless himself.
“I feel as though people from the city of Yellowknife, we’re failing, we’re not doing what we can,” he said.
There was also a question and answer period at the end of the presentation.
Going forward the Aurora Village building will need to be approved by city council on Oct. 4 in order to be used as the location for the temporary shelter.
Last year the Mine Rescue building was never approved by city council and the minister of Municipal and Community Affairs declared a state of emergency to bypass the city’s bylaws to use the building.
Green said this hasn’t been ruled out, but says it will not be used unless it is the only option.