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On the edge of eviction

Mark Poodlat and Donna Black may seem like any other young couple in love. With nowhere to live other than a small dome tent on city property, it's clear their struggle to stay together is going to be a tough one.

Dawn Ostrem
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 21/01) - A young couple living in a tent overlooking Frame Lake say they're not looking forward to the authorities making them leave their campsite.

Mark Poodlat and Donna Black outside their temporary home. - Dawn Ostrem/NNSL photo

The couple have lived in a small dome tent on a private site between the legislative assembly and the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre since September.

As recently as 20 years ago the scene would not have been uncommon. But in today's world, the authorities will likely be stepping in to remove them. The question left unanswered is where they will go.

To tent-dwellers Mark Poodlat and Donna Black, their home is paradise. It is quiet and sheltered by frost-tipped spruce trees. Sunlight stretches onto the lake and snow-skiffed rock.

Poodlat, 18, spoke about living there the day after a storm brought winds gusting up to 60 kilometres per hour.

"It was beautiful," he said, describing the night he walked home at 3 a.m. from his job as a waiter at the Gold Range Cafe. "I like it here."

But Poodlat and his girlfriend, 15-year-old Black, realize they cannot stay. They are not worried about the temperature plummeting below freezing. They say they like sleeping inside the small tent with a couple of blankets and their jackets on.

Since being discovered, the couple was asked to leave by the director of the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre.

"The last thing I would want to do is kick someone out of their living conditions," said Barb Cameron. "I think it is tragic that we have people living outside in uninsulated tents in the winter.

"When I asked him to remove the tent I said it was because it was inappropriate .... My first concern is their welfare."

Cameron contacted the City of Yellowknife's municipal enforcement division, the RCMP and the Department of Health and Social Services.

Both Poodlat and Black are products of the foster-care system, which has left the couple with bitter memories.

Black's file is currently with the Department of Health and Social Services office in Rae-Edzo.

"We have a mandate to protect children," said Carol-Anne Pasemko, director of health and social services for the Dogrib region. "But if a child refuses services, what do you do?"

Poodlat, though old enough to leave that system behind, is still too young to receive income support, which begins at 19.

Because of his predicament the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Board offered to help.

The board's chief executive officer, Al Woods, said Poodlat was informed that he, alone, could live with a family. Not a foster family but a place that would provide him with food and a place to stay and be compensated by the board.

"We wanted to work something out but he has not come in," said Woods.

"I feel for them and people are willing to help but there is only so much we can do."

Black said she left school in September. She could stay at the Yellowknife Women's Centre, the same place Poodlat's mother lives.

Poodlat could stay at the Salvation Army, where the couple regularly go for food. But the duo prefer tent life because they want to live together in natural surroundings, Poodlat said.

Poodlat said his grandmother took him out in the bush when he was younger and he likes being on the land.

When Poodlat is not working day or night shifts at the cafe, where he makes $8.50 per hour, the couple spend time at the mall or on 50th Street.

He said he is working to pay off a fine he received after a conviction for getting stoned and jumping on a car. He said it was his first brush with the law.

"It's hard," Woods said. "But we cannot go out and get an apartment for everyone who leaves home."

Pasemko echoed the feeling of helplessness.

"No one wants to see kids living in tents, no matter how romantic they might think they are being," she said.

"It doesn't matter what age a kid is, all you can do is offer services."

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