No room at the inn as GNWT lets transitional housing project die
“The results of the last election sent a clear message. People voted for change. They did not think that we were being heard, and they were not satisfied with the results their government was delivering. We can do better.” — Newly elected Premier Caroline Cochrane in her sessional statement, Dec. 10.
“I’m shocked and dismayed by the news.” — Mayor Rebecca Alty on Arnica Inn transitional housing project funding denial.
“It’s incredibly disappointing.” — Women’s Society’s Bree Denning on learning her group’s project is dead.
Just when you think there is some hope on the horizon for one of the city’s most pressing social issues, the government steps up to shut it down.
The Yellowknife Women’s Society (YKWS) has been patiently waiting for almost one year to hear about government funding help to convert the Arnica Inn on Franklin Avenue heading towards Old Town into a 42-unit transitional housing complex.
Without doubt, it is a “housing first” model that has worked well in other communites across North America. The owners of the hotel were being very gracious in allowing the sale of the property to remain in a holding pattern for the women’s society.
But as of Friday afternoon, the project was dead.
This new government must now live up to its promises to be fair and transparent and explain why the NWT Housing Corporation quietly pulled its support for the project, which resulted in the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) denying funding.
This transitional housing prject is exactly the type of facility the city’s homeless population needs. Street people suffering from addictions and mental health issues are extremely vulnerable, but many want help and the first thing they need is a place to live.
Right now, for many that means the Day Shelter/Sobering Centre. People using that facility are still spending much of their lives on the streets. They continue to injure themselves and relieve some of the pressure on downtown residents and merchants who are dealing with the negative effects of panhandling and public intoxication on a daily basis. We re trying to be a tourism draw, you know.
The Arnica Inn project would have helped some 40 people have a stable place to stay, and one that is slightly away from the tenderloin district around the current day shelter on 50 Street. From that stable environment, they can then start to work on recovery from addictions, finding employment or even furthering education. And when they are ready, obtaining an apartment in a private rental situation could be looked at.
To expect a pretty rough and ready street person to be able to move from doorways and alleys and live independently in a regular apartment block is too big a leap.
Who believes that? Well, our current premier does.
In a 2016 interview with Edge Magazine, then Housing Corporation minister responsible for addressing homelessness Caroline Cochrane didn’t agree with dropping homeless people into private market apartments around the city.
She told the magazine she witnessed many examples of people “self-sabotaging” after moving into that type of transitional housing in order to be back with their friends.
That situation would be alleviated with the women’s society’s Arnica Inn project, which would have some 40 people under one roof.
I listened to the society’s Bree Denning make her case to the Rotary Club of Yellowknife in December and I quickly came to believe this project could really have a positive impact on the city’s homeless problem.
It is a real ‘housing first’ strategy, which would provide struggling people with a stable place to live, with social supports, to allow residents to have their strengths and weaknesses assessed.
At the time, the society’s application was before the CMHC and Denning told the Rotarians the project was also delayed by last fall’s territorial general election.
I am shocked at the short-sightedness of the GNWT for letting this project die.
“It’s incredibly disappointing,” Denning told Cabin Radio. “We’ve been trying to get this project off the ground for almost a year now. It was a really affordable and quick solution, much quicker than a new-build project or anything along those lines.
It’s apparent the GNWT — whether it be the bureaucracy, new Housing Minister Paulie Chinna or Premier Cochrane herself — never wanted it to succeed. This is unbelievable. And how rude of the GNWT to leave the Yellowknife Women’s Society hanging for so long.
“It was a local not-for-profit taking the lead to get these 42 transitional housing units on the market quickly, and the GNWT wasn’t supportive,” Mayor Rebecca Alty stated in a blistering Facebook post last week. “I can’t wrap my head around it.”
There is a serious housing shortage for people struggling to get off the streets. This project would have been a good transitional housing option for many. It would have taken the pressure off the various agencies trying to get a handle on the homeless issue.
Warmer weather will be here soon, and there will be the annual complaints about the lack of action on “cleaning up” the downtown area. Well, the Arnica project would have provided places for many of these people to live. It would help those in need and the city in general.
I hope it’s not too late to save this project. It sort of makes you wonder what exactly the real priorities of the 19th Assembly are? This was supposed to be a new kind of government. It was supposed to have a more caring and compassionate approach. So what happened on this file?
As Cabin Radio reported, Alty said she had written to Minister Chinna, demanding to know why the women’s society’s “a well-researched and thought-out plan” to transform the Arnica Inn did not receive territorial support.
From Alty’s Facebook post: “My hope is that either a) the premier can ask the federal government to reconsider the application because the GNWT is actually supportive; or b) the GNWT has a plan that will house 42 individuals or more in Yellowknife within the next few months — just like the YKWS was going to do…”
It will be interesting to hear the answer.
UPDATE: And the answer is … well, really disappointing. The application basically slipped through the cracks.
Reports NNSL: “Housing Minister Paulie Chinna acknowledged in the legislative assembly Tuesday that she should have been more involved in a plan to convert the Arnica Inn into a 42-unit transitional housing project.”
And on Wednesday, Chinna faced more grilling, after she tried to deflect blame.
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson mentioned the longstanding parliamentary concept of ministerial responsibility, where a minister shouldn’t lay blame for mistakes made in her department at the feet of others.
UPDATE: Great news as the March 31 deadline on acquiring the Arnica Inn approached — the society worked out a deal with the owners. Bree Denning – the society’s executive director – told Cabin Radio CMHC had now provided a letter stating the society is working to meet the requirements for funding. With that letter, the Arnica Inn’s owners have agreed to a deferred payment arrangement. The society now has until next year to raise the final sum for the building’s purchase.