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Day shelter director scrambling for donors
Northern News Services
Published Friday, December 23, 2011
"I would be wandering around outside, trying to find a warm place," said the Rankin Inlet man, who asked to remain anonymous.
Lydia Bardak, the executive director of the John Howard Society said she will be scrambling to find donors to fund Yellowknife's downtown day shelter before funding runs out in March 2012.
Bardak, who was out of town last week, said she found out about BHP Billiton's decision not to renew its funding for the pilot project by reading last week's legislative assembly transcripts. She also said she cannot rely on Health and Social Services Minister Tom Beaulieu's announcement that it was his department's "intention" to continue funding.
"I need a little bit more than intention, although intentions are good," she said. "I'm looking for commitment."
In 2009, the GNWT committed $375,000, BHP committed $150,000 and the city committed $75,000 to the project.
With the bulk of its funding in the air, the future of the day shelter - and the various people who access it between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily - is uncertain. There have been 254 registered shelter users since the facility opened in November 2009.
Bardak said scaling back the shelter's hours is a potential solution, though not a desired one. The Salvation Army overnight shelter closes at 7 a.m. and doesn't reopen until 7 p.m., and Bardak considers it critical to address the "bookends of the day" - the hours before and after the opening and closing of downtown businesses and shopping centres where shelter clients might otherwise seek a bathroom, a warm cup of coffee or refuge from the cold.
"This is like a safe haven for a lot of people that are on the street," said a man from Inuvik who would not give his name. "If you don't want to go out there and drink, you can come here and hang out all day. A lot of people have addictions and alcohol is a big-factor here. A lot of drunk people come in, but if they are causing trouble they have to leave. If a person is having trouble with family life, or in their own life, and if they end up drinking in the day they can end up on the street and maybe they will pass out and maybe they will freeze to death."
The man said he had accessed the shelter intermittently for a year.
During the Dec. 13 sitting of the legislative assembly, Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins questioned Beaulieu about funding for the day shelter.
"Am I correct to hear the Minister say in the House today that the downtown day shelter will be protected at least for one more year, the 2012/2013 fiscal year?" Hawkins asked. "Yes, that is the intention," replied Beaulieu, adding his department had undertaken a review of the service.
Though the City of Yellowknife has committed to renew its funding, Bardak said it contributes just a small chunk of the $240,000 needed to run the shelter annually.
The shelter is the only venue that will take in intoxicated people, relieving the strain on downtown property developers like Bellanca and Northern Properties and public venues such as the Yellowknife Public Library. They have in turn given Bardak positive feedback, citing a decrease in loiterers. However, it is the service to those struggling with addictions and mental health that Bardak is primarily concerned with.
"There's some people in the day shelter and in our communities who, you know, in their lifetime they may never quit drinking," she said. "And so we have to face the reality that these folks are dying. And if all we can provide is a kind of palliative care, like a safe warm place to hang out, that's really important because they're still human regardless of, you know, whatever mess they find themselves in."
Bardak said she wishes there was adequate funding to employ trained social workers or therapists, but with only seven workers staffing the shelter 12 hours a day, seven days a week, it is clear there is no extra money to go around.