Yellowknife mall owners pen open letter seeking help to address 'war zone' caused by homeless crisis

The owners of the Centre Square Mall and the adjoining Quality Inn and Suites in Yellowknife have penned an open letter calling on Yellowknifers to join their plea to get governments to deal with a homelessness crisis that's created a 'war zone.'

'Initially, our calls were politely answered... one year later we have seen no action'

Business is brisk as usual at Holloway's Super 8 located on the other side of town, but marginal at its downtown locations, which the company describes as both a 'war zone' and a 'crisis that plays out daily.' (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

The owners of the Centre Square Mall and the adjoining Quality Inn and Suites in Yellowknife have penned an open letter calling on Yellowknifers to join their plea to get governments to deal with a homelessness crisis that's created a "war zone" centred on their businesses.

Felix Seiler is the chief operating officer for Holloway Lodging Corporation, which owns the upper part of the mall and the hotel. On Feb. 9, he sent a letter about the "crisis that plays out daily" to Yellowknife Mayor Mark Heyck, Premier Bob McLeod, two Yellowknife MLAs, Liberal MP Michael McLeod and Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.

"We contribute to the tax base of all three governments but our repeated attempts to waken our elected officials and see action have failed," the letter reads. 

The company, Seiler notes, has been doing business in Yellowknife for 12 years and employs about 60 people.

Business is brisk as usual at the company's Super 8 located on the other side of town, but marginal at its downtown locations, which the letter describes as a "war zone."

When Yellowknife's day shelters clear out, people come to the mall. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

"One day we found a gentleman, seemingly lifeless, in our vestibule," the letter says, noting it took 40 minutes for help to arrive, and asking whether it would have been different had the gentleman been wearing a suit and tie.

"Recently, one of our employees was swarmed while trying to remove a group of homeless people from our premises," reads another part of the letter. "He was the recipient of several punches.

"​Our general manager has been assaulted. Our security person suffered bruising to the ribs from punches last week. All have been spat on."

Shift reports from security guards detail the extent of the harassment. In one case, a security guard reported being assaulted twice within a 24-hour period.

'War zone' costing the company

Seiler told CBC News the issue of harassment by homeless people at the mall is costing his business thousands of dollars in lost revenue. He says calls to the City of Yellowknife, RCMP and territorial government have all gone nowhere.

"Initially, our calls were politely answered and meetings were granted," the letter says. "One year later we have seen no action."

"It's at the point where now, really, we need some help," Seiler told CBC.

Seiler said he's looking for increased police presence at the mall and hotel, since private security isn't working.   

"I want someone to come into the A&W in the mall and be able to eat his burger in peace without being accosted by someone asking for cigarettes or money," he said.  "It's something that needs to be controlled."  

'Where are you gonna go?'

But people without a place to stay have nowhere else to get warm, says Darlene, who only provided her first name to CBC News and identifies as a street person.

Darlene, who identifies as a street person, says she's seen violence happen outside the mall. She blames a lack of shelter space and alcohol abuse on the problem. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)
"When you're kicked out of the drop-in centre for 48 hours, which isn't right and it's cold outside, where are you gonna go? Hang around in the mall," she said. 

Darlene said she too sees homeless people become violent outside the mall and described seeing guards and shoppers being spit on and verbally assaulted. She blames a lack of shelter space and alcohol abuse for the escalating situation.   

"Some people buy alcohol the night before and then they start drinking early in the morning," she said. "That's when the problem starts, everything breaks loose."  

"It's honest to God getting worse," she said.

The N.W.T. government's 2017-2018 budget recently set aside $230,000 to keep the city's day shelter open 12 hours a day.

CBC News has been unable to reach Yellowknife Mayor Mark Heyck for comment, but plans to speak with him on this issue Monday. 

Mobile users: View the document
(PDF KB)
(Text KB)
CBC is not responsible for 3rd party content

With a report from Curtis Mandeville

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.