'Like one of the family': Yellowknife street outreach program gets hundreds of calls for help in first 3 weeks

After three weeks, the street outreach program overseen by the Yellowknife Women’s Society appears to be making a difference, with organizers answering more than 300 calls so far.

Program's staff will pick up intoxicated, vulnerable people and drive them to a safe place

Joe Norn (left) and Dowey Therese Suzanne Lafferty say they appreciate the street outreach program in Yellowknife and are using the service often. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Joe Norn and Dowey Therese Lafferty say they don't always know where they're spending the night.

But they know if they've had too much to drink and are in trouble, they can call Yellowknife's new street outreach program and its co-ordinator Lydia Bardak.

"When I've been abandoned, I can call Lydia and she'll be there in 15 minutes. She treats you like one of the family," Norn said. "I adore her. I appreciate it."

After three weeks, the street outreach program, overseen by the Yellowknife Women's Society, appears to be making a difference, with organizers answering hundreds of calls so far. 

Lydia Bardak answers a call for help while street outreach worker Trevor Glavich looks on. The two are part of the street outreach program helping get vulnerable people in Yellowknife to a safe place. (Kate Kyle/CBC)
Vulnerable people on Yellowknife's streets can call the program's number if they or someone they know is intoxicated and needs help. The program's white van combs downtown between 1 p.m. and 1 a.m. every day, taking people to the new sobering centre, a shelter, or another safe place.

"Knowing that there's a van and that Lydia is out there gives us hope," Lafferty said. "We don't have to be stuck on the streets, she'll bring us to the shelter."

Lafferty describes a recent incident involving another woman who'd passed out. She says the woman was covered in urine and needed help.

"I sat for a while with the woman, and then I called Lydia. She came, and we got her into the van," Lafferty said.  

'They're happy to see us' 

Bardak answers calls like this often. The team responded to 311 transport calls in the first two weeks.

"It's very well received," Bardak said, "both by people who need rides as well as members of the public who are calling, texting us to say they have spotted someone somewhere. The ambulance and RCMP also call us."

About a third of the program's clients go to the city's new sobering centre at the community arena, Bardak says. The rest go to shelters or a home they can stay at in the city.

Trevor Glavich and Lydia Bardak have been helping vulnerable people in Yellowknife stay safe through the new street outreach program overseen by the Yellowknife Women's Society. (Kate Kyle/CBC)
"They're very welcoming, they're happy to see us, they're flagging us down. There's been a real empowerment," Bardak said. "They're much more happy to have the lighter approach."   

The team includes two part-time and two full-time staff and is set to run until at least December.

It's designed to keep people safe on the streets and help ease the calls coming in to RCMP and other emergency services. 

"We're focused on public safety and getting people who are intoxicated and not able to care for themselves to a safe place," explained Bree Denning, the executive director of the women's society.

Though Denning said it's still too early to know how the program has affected the number of calls made to RCMP and ambulance services, Bardak says she's heard good things so far.

"I've been hearing feedback from my neighbours or others, that they're seeing a difference," Bardak said. "I don't get [the same perspective] because I'm running non-stop. But I have noticed a difference."

Members of the public who see someone who needs help can call the hotline at (867) 445-7202.

With files from Kate Kyle