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Betty House funding celebrated but controversial

Galit Rodan
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A bit of controversy has darkened what was otherwise a much-welcomed announcement by Housing Minister Robert C. McLeod regarding $2.3 million of funding for the Betty House women's transitional home.

McLeod made the announcement during his minister's statement at the legislative assembly Friday.

"I am told that the GNWT contribution of about $2.3 million will have a significant impact on ensuring completion of Betty House and we believe this initiative is a vital part of our overall priority of strengthening our approach to homelessness," he said.

Once built, the Betty House will be a transitional home for women and children in need of refuge - whether because they are fleeing violence, are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.

The centre's name is an acronym for Better Environment to Transition in Yellowknife. Its mandate is to help women and children stabilize, move forward and make positive life choices. Along with providing about 30 units of housing, the Betty House, which will be owned and operated by the YWCA, will provide programming and support services to help women gain life skills, financial skills, and the tenancy record needed to help women and their children move along the housing continuum, said Dayle Hernblad, homelessness co-ordinator with the Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition.

The GNWT's financial contribution brings funding for the project to about $3.9 million. Hernblad said she expected the total cost of the project to reach more than $6 million.

"We're absolutely ever so grateful for the funding from the housing corporation and this is going to make a huge difference in our fundraising goal," she said.

Though Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins and Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro are proponents of the project, they questioned the cabinet process in making the decision.

In his Monday member's statement, Hawkins said the regular members received notification of the funding by e-mail merely an hour before McLeod's announcement.

Hawkins said he was shocked at the announcement and saddened that the lack of consultation of regular members had necessitated a conversation about process when "this should be strictly a good news story."

Hawkins said neither he nor any of the other regular members had any idea where the money was coming from.

"The lack of communication seems very disrespectful," he said. "The members want to be involved."

Hawkins said he was concerned about what the lack of notice signified in terms of the working relationship between cabinet and regular members.

Premier Bob McLeod said the funding was approved in a 2009/2010 budget and that the Standing Committee on Social Programs had been apprised of the funding both in 2010 and 2011.

Bisaro said she had "no recollection" of the information being provided to the standing committee and asked the premier to provide the documents.

The Betty House, a Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition project, was designated a community priority in 2009. Hernblad said the coalition has been partnered with the NWT Housing Corporation "for a couple years now."

David Stewart, president of the NWT Housing Corporation, said his organization "looks across the whole continuum of housing needs from homelessness right through to public housing and rentals and home-ownership."

"Certainly on the homelessness side, we saw this project as an important one to help with that element in terms of the need for transitional housing that's here in Yellowknife," he said.

Hernblad said she hopes to begin construction next spring.

"It would be wonderful to open for Christmas dinner, 2013, but we're probably looking at more 2014," she said.

- with files from Kevin Allerston.

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