A crackdown on social program double-dippers
So when is a homeless shelter an open-door community centre? Well, in Yellowknife, of course.
As I’ve written about before, one of the main issues surrounding the failing social experiment known as the Day Shelter/Sobering Centre — a combined facility jammed into a commercial area of downtown — is the large number of people simply hanging out in and around the place all day and into the night.
And now, we know why: the staff was allowing anyone in for food, washrooms and even showers and laundry facilities. Yes, in an astonishingly irresponsible operating decision, the taxpayer-funded centre was apparently allowing people already in subsidized housing or on income assistance (welfare) to essentially double dip the system.
Some of the housed users of the homeless shelter were miffed when told that they would no longer be welcome earlier this week. They enjoy socializing with friends, they said.
I say, if they have places to live, why wouldn’t it make more sense to expect the homeless to hang out with the homed?
Oh, no. That would make too much sense.
As soon as it was made known that the NWT Disabilities Council — which runs the centre — decided to crack down on the abusers of the centre, the regular cast of do-gooders started to complain.
Good grief, people. If a centrally located community/drop-in centre is what is needed, then plans should be made to start pulling together public and private resources for one to be built. Or perhaps the exisiting Tree of Peace Friendship Centre nearby on 51 Street could adjust its mandate to become the community/drop-in centre the housed people now flocking to the homeless centre are calling for.
You see, the “co-location” of two disparate services — something that is not commonly done in other areas of Canada — results in all sorts of people taking advantage of the Day Shelter when the sun shines, then returning later at night to the Sobering Centre to pass out in a cot after a day of drinking.
Sure, there are many people using the centre properly and who are not causing trouble. But the place is out of control and I applaud any move to clean it up.
The rampant open liquor and violent crime stemming from the high number of people attracted to the area of the Day Shelter and its overnight Sobering Centre (drunk tank) has shocked local business owners and those people who have to work there.
There are fights, beat-downs and a recent violent homicide at the front door of the place.
I can personally attest to the veil of fear that was dropped on that block of 50 Street when the co-location opened a little over one year ago. I was there when the ribbon was cut and took a tour of the joint.
No security guards are ever seen outside the facility. RCMP just admitted to city council that they do street patrols perhaps every other day around the centre. But I’d say patrol vehicles are called to the place for distubances much more frequently than that.
And I have worked right across the street from the place and had to navigate through people openly drinking in the business’s parking lot day and night. Panhandling was commonplace when simply walking down the street. The patrols that were put in place after a rash of violence are no more than young people carrying umbrellas and litter claws.
The Day Shelter/Sobering Centre is a purpose-built facility that can’t even have a chance of working properly unless the rules are followed.
It shouldn’t be used by people — even those who are poor — housed through a transitional housing or Housing First program. Even people from outside of Yellowknife are using the Day Shelter/Sobering Centre’s facilities when visiting the city from across the NWT and even Nunavut.
Sometimes tough love is what’s called for when dealing with situations that can be hard to turn away from.
The Day Shelter/Sobering Centre was designed for homeless people to use during the day when other overnight shelters might be closed. It was designed to prevent homeless people from freezing to death. It was designed to provide some dignity to the homeless by providing some basic services that we all take for granted.
It wasn’t designed to serve the entire community.
And the Sobering Centre is to allow people found drunk in the streets to have a safe place to sleep it off. This is generally used at night.
A few homeless people were already essentially using the place as a residence, as I heard while covering court.
But it’s not a large place and will be overwhelmed if access isn’t restricted. It also can’t continue to be a focal point for the entire community of street people and those with addictions and mental health issues.
But of course, on Friday the NWT Disabilities Council and its partnering agency the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) bowed to pressure from media reports and social advocates.
CBC North reported the council has put its “new rule restricting clients” at the Day Shelter on hold until December.
So one more month of the facility — and the entire block — being overrun and stretched to its limits.
As for solutions to help Yellowknife’s homeless population, I will take a look in my next blog at one promising project being planned in the city and another successful situation in Austin, Texas that could be adapted for the North.