Yellowknife city council rejected the application to turn the former Aurora Village building into a temporary day shelter at a special council meeting on Monday evening.
The application for 4709 Franklin Ave. was submitted by the territorial department of Health and Social Services, after investigating over 30 possible locations.
But in order to go ahead, it needed approval by the City of Yellowknife
The votes came just short with city council voting 4-3 against using the space as a temporary shelter.
Councillors who voted against included Steve Payne, Niels Konge, Rommel Silverio and Stacie Smith.
Those who voted in favour were Mayor Rebecca Alty, as well as councillors Shauna Morgan and Julian Morse.
Each member gave their reasoning before the vote took place.
Both Silverio and Smith said they thought there were better options available that the GNWT had not explored.
“I know for myself, I won’t be in favour of this,” Smith said. “It’s not because I don’t want to help our vulnerable population, it’s not because I hate anyone, it’s because I feel in my bones this is not the right solution.”
“I don’t want us to take the first handout as we have for years.”
Konge said he was voting against the location because it had inadequate outdoor space for those using the shelter. Payne said he would’ve supported the location if it was for eight months, but said he felt three years would have too much of an effect on the businesses. He added the location was at a busy intersection and could be dangerous for those using the shelter.
However, those who voted in favour argued there was a reason the GNWT chose this as the option for the shelter.
GNWT officials have said they explored over 30 options and the Aurora Village building was the best one available.
Morse said he doesn’t believe the shelter would have much impact on the businesses in the vicinity and cited previous examples of local businesses being successful while close to a shelter.
Ultimately he said the effects the shelter could have on the businesses does not compare the possibility that people could die if a shelter isn’t established soon.
“Maybe there is something that is slightly better the GNWT could do, but I think it would be extremely unfortunate, embarrassing, problematic and just untenable for me to see council stand in the way of a solution,” he said. “Three or four months from now, we’re looking at extremely cold weather and a solution isn’t in place.”
Mayor Alty said she felt as though council wasn’t looking at the shelter application the same as other applications.
“On one hand, yes, we’re meant to determine whether a special care facility is an appropriate use of this location. However, we tend to get into a discussion about whether there’s a better location,” she said. “For example, in January, when we were deciding whether to allow food and drink on the Gas Town Lodge or at the Sundog Trading Post, we didn’t stop and ask if there was a better location on Old Airport Rd. for a grill, or whether there was a better location on Latham Island for a coffee and dessert shop.”
Now, the GNWT will either provide additional options for city council to vote on, or declare a state of emergency and use the building anyways, as was done last year.
The situation got particularly heated this year, with someone even spray painting the sidewalk in front of the Aurora Village building.
The vote took place on the same day the Yellowknife day shelter and sobering centre officially re-opened.
The facilities were forced to close due to the COVID outbreak that caused staffing shortages.