Drifters held accountable
Hoeft concerned that the question of personal responsibility has been lost

Terry Kruger
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 05/00) - It takes a lot of compassion to help the homeless, says Salvation Army Capt. Karen Hoeft.

A lot of the time means being there to give a helping hand, a warm place to sleep it off in the Sally Ann's emergency shelter, a hot meal and a willingness to help.

Other times, it means holding people accountable for their decisions, even if that means saying an individual is not welcome.

Hoeft is concerned that the question of personal responsibility has been lost in the Home for the Homeless debate.

It's something she deals with every day as part of her ministry to Yellowknife's less fortunate. She wonders aloud why some of the men who have been displaced from the Home don't want to come back to the Salvation Army shelter, even though many of them have sought support in the past.

"We have to hold (people) accountable for their actions," she said Monday. "You have the right to choose what you want. The responsibility that is attached to that right is that you might live on the street.

"We are not being compassionate to them at all if we allow them to do whatever they want."

At the Salvation Army, the consequences include not being able to find a place to sleep at night when a person shows up drunk and aggressive.

"We only turn people away from the emergency shelter who are violent or unmanageable." Often, the police are called and the individual is taken away in handcuffs. They may be back, again and again.

"Some (people) have had six warnings, some 10 warnings. We give them plenty of opportunity."

They present a real risk to staff and the other residents, she said.

"We don't want fights breaking out. We do not have phones ripped out of the wall. The risk is a very real thing."

Accountability also extends to the "drifters" who "come to Yellowknife with diamonds in their eyes."

Many come looking for big money and until they get it, turn to government or social service agencies for support. Some want that with no strings attached, said Hoeft.

At the Salvation Army, there are expectations. That includes doing your share in keeping the dorm rooms neat and tidy and increasing levels of encouragement to get back on your feet.

"If you stay a night, we ask very little. If you stay a week, we're asking more," she said. "By the time you've stayed here three months, we're asking for a lot."

And she bristles at the impact the "drifters" have had on Yellowknife's long-term homeless population, especially those whose beds were taken up in the Home for the Homeless.

"It's the chronic people we have a moral obligation to help."