Owner of the Finn Hansen building April Desjarlais presents to councillors March 25th, 2019. Emelie Peacock photo
Six months since Yellowknife’s day shelter and sobering centre opened its doors at 5111 50th St., the owner of a building next door says it has become a ‘failed model.’
April Desjarlais, who owns the Finn Hansen Building, says she could fill books with the amount of “public indecency, drunkenness, aggressive behaviour, threats of harm and worst of all, assaults” she has witnessed around the adjacent day shelter. The majority of the violence captured on security cameras around her building is violence against vulnerable people, and Indigenous women bear the brunt she says.
“Ninety-five per cent of the abuse that I’ve seen on video, is being done to Indigenous females,” Desjarlais says, relaying a particularly disturbing episode she witnessed where a woman was choked until she became unconscious. “I don’t even know in what world that is acceptable, but we’ve made it acceptable on that street. We’ve made it acceptable at that shelter.”
Yellowknife’s sobering centre and day shelter on 50th Street officially opened on September 24, 2018. Meaghan Richens photo
The violence has also affected tenants of her building, with one female tenant physically assaulted and followed into the building.
Desjarlais says she bought the building originally to contribute to the revitalization of downtown Yellowknife. “I made this investment because I’m a believer that even in the worst situations, things can be made better.” Desjarlais says she has spent $60,000 to install a security system and lighting, and now $20,000 on fencing. Councillor Niels Konge says the property’s appraisal has also gone down significantly by around a quarter of a million dollars.
READ MORE: Joint sobering centre and day shelter officially opens downtown
“I am here to ask that council exercise the conditions that it placed on the day shelter conditional permit and force minister Abernethy, who has failed in his commitment to all of us, to either close the day shelter and sobering centre entirely or at least close the day shelter component,” Desjarlais implored council Monday evening.
Councillors Niels Konge and Julian Morse asked administration what powers the city has to hold the GNWT accountable to the conditions laid out in their agreement with the city, with Konge wanting to know whether the city could revoke the use of the building. “We need to do something, because if we don’t the real estate values in this neighbourhood and we’ll never see any revitalization,” Konge says.
Desjarlais says she previously expressed concerns to council about putting the centre across the alley from the liquor store, concerns which she repeated Monday. “It’s almost as if the GNWT is operating a popular bar, except the drinking area is just outside their direct area of responsibility.”
Councillor Morse says having the facility open is an important step in the harm reduction approach, however, a line needs to be drawn between this and violence and public intoxication. He asked administration whether moving the liquor store was possible.
Mayor Rebecca Alty says the request for proposals for this service is going out this year, which could be an opportunity to evaluate the conditions in the contract.
“This is a wicked problem, it’s difficult to change. But I think we’ll look at what’s possible with the conditionally permitted use was that there’s a safety plan, is the safety plan in place? The RFP is going out for the day shelter, what are the deliverables, what are the accountability measures?” she says, adding she will reach out to Minister of Health and Social Services Glen Abernethy.