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Picnic tables in a parking lot: N.W.T. gov't's response to Yellowknife's shuttered day shelter

People can visit the encampment beside the vacant Aspen Apartments to grab a bite to eat, store their belongings, and use the portable toilets, but they can’t nap comfortably or do laundry inside the building.

Temporary day shelter at downtown Mine Rescue Building closed on Monday

Picnic tables and portable toilets were set up in the parking lot next to Aspen Apartments on 51st Street after the temporary day shelter in downtown Yellowknife closed on Monday. (Sidney Cohen/CBC )

Some canopy tents and picnic tables in a parking lot.

This is how the Northwest Territories government is filling the gap after the temporary day shelter at Yellowknife's Mine Safety Building closed on Monday.

People can visit the encampment beside the vacant Aspen Apartments on 51st Street to grab a bite to eat, store their belongings, and use the portable toilets, but they can't nap comfortably or do laundry inside the building.

And there isn't much in the way of protection from the elements. 

"It's just not fair," said Michael Fatt, the program coordinator for Common Ground, which employs people who are homeless or in need of work. 

"I feel a little bit disappointed that we didn't have something in place already."

Advocates say that during the pandemic, when indoor spaces around the city were forced to cut capacity to meet public health guidelines, the temporary day shelter was a crucial piece of Yellowknife's shelter network. 

Fatt, who was once homeless himself, said he visited the Mine Rescue Building almost every day to pick people up for work. He said the space was "comfortable."

Now, people will be more likely to seek cover in the malls or building doorways, he said.

Jason Landry used to visit the temporary day shelter at Yellowknife's Mine Rescue Building. (Sidney Cohen/CBC)

Jason Landry, who used to visit the Mine Rescue Building, was outside the Aspen at lunchtime on Tuesday.

"It'd be cool if they turned this place into a bachelor's suite or something, you know what I mean? The bottom floor could be offices and the second floor could be for people who go to work and sober people," he said.

"That's just one of my ideas."

But the territorial government didn't ask shelter visitors like Landry for their ideas.

"I don't believe that consultation happened because we don't have options," said Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green, who's responsible for shelter operations. 

"We felt that something was better than nothing, and that's why we went with the Aspen."

The temporary day shelter at Yellowknife's Mine Rescue Building closed on Monday. The building was seized under a state of emergency in order to shelter people who couldn't get into the permanent day shelter on 50th Street. The state of emergency remained in effect through Wednesday. (Sidney Cohen/CBC)

State of emergency extends past shelter's life

Early last November, the minister of Municipal and Community Affairs declared a state of emergency in Yellowknife for the express purpose of seizing the Mine Rescue Building to convert it into a temporary day shelter. 

The government justified the move saying that shelter space was needed for about 40 people while the 50th Street day shelter was at reduced capacity due to COVID-19. That shelter has shower and laundry facilities and places for people to sit and rest.

The state of emergency granted the minister sweeping powers: the ability to enter premises without a warrant, to fix the price of food and fuel, and to acquire private and public property. That last piece is what Minister Paulie Chinna used to create the temporary day shelter at the Mine Rescue Building. 

Chinna invoked her powers again in February when she acquired the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre after flooding at the Salvation Army forced people out of that shelter. People were let back into the Salvation Army building in March, said the organization's N.W.T. executive director.

According to the Emergency Management Act, the minister can roll back the state of emergency at any time.

But the measure remained in effect until Wednesday, despite the government having vacated the Mine Rescue Building on Monday.

A spokesperson for Chinna did not immediately provide an explanation. 

Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green said she hopes to find an alternative day shelter space before Oct. 1. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Some people will find themselves 'at a loose end'

Jordan Crosby is the manager of Overlander Sports, located beside the Mine Rescue Building. 

The business opposed a day shelter opening next door, said Crosby, but ultimately the business and its new neighbour coexisted in relative peace. 

Crosby said over the winter, he gave shelter visitors socks and gloves from the store.

Customers did complain, though, he said, and there was some damage done to the shop. 

While the temporary shelter's location was "not ideal" in Crosby's view, he agreed that there needs to be another day shelter. 

"I just hope the people in charge can step up to the plate." 

Green acknowledged that under the current circumstances, some people will find themselves "at a loose end." 

"I want to acknowledge that, and I understand that businesses and public institutions are not friendly to having them present, which is really unfortunate," she said.

"But that is the reality. We do not have a full suite of services for people who are homeless."

She said she hopes to find an alternative day shelter space before Oct.1.

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated to clarify that people can access showers and laundry at the day shelter on 50th Street.
    Jun 04, 2021 9:26 AM CT

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