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Boozing seen at day shelter
MLA says addiction services needed at facility run by John Howard Society

Danielle Sachs
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 15, 2012

An MLA is saying the Yellowknife Day Shelter is a "missed opportunity" to provide much-needed counselling and addiction help to one of the city's most vulnerable populations.

Robert Hawkins, MLA for Yellowknife Centre, said he was dropping off food at the Yellowknife Day Shelter on a Sunday within the past couple of months when he noticed people openly drinking.

"They were drinking right inside the pen," said Hawkins, referring to a small partially fenced area with a picnic table.

Hawkins also said some of his constituents have come to him with increasingly colourful stories.

One resident reported seeing people having sex. Another recalled seeing someone flash another individual.

He asked Health Minister Tom Beaulieu, in the legislative assembly this week, what the government is doing to increase support and resources for the people who use the shelter and to address public intoxication.

"The downtown day shelter still needs a lot of support," said Hawkins on Tuesday, adding that he has spoken about problems at the shelter several times and wants action taken.

Hawkins raised the issue to government members in February, when he cited complaints from neighbouring residents about ongoing drinking issues at the shelter.

"It's such a place of opportunity and hope," Hawkins said. "It could be so good but the services are non-existent."

Lydia Bardak, executive director of the John Howard Society, which runs the shelter at 4919 51 St., said three incidents of public fornication did not involve the shelter and is adamant that there's no drinking allowed in the day shelter.

"We have two rules," she said. "No drinking and no aggression."

Bardak said neither she nor the shelter staff have been made aware of any complaints about drinking.

"It's baffling he (Hawkins) didn't say anything to us and saved it for the assembly," said Bardak.

"If he's witnessed something, he needs to bring it to our attention."

Bardak lives and works downtown and mentioned the amount of public drinking she witnesses.

"I see drinking outside the post office all the time and no one says anything," said Bardak.

"You see it outside Centre Square Mall, drinking is an issue. Before we opened, people were drinking in the lobby of the hospital."

Hawkins wanted to know if Beaulieu and the Department of Health and Social Services is planning on offering more services within the shelter.

Open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the shelter currently provides a safe and warm place to stay during the day, a hot breakfast and an afternoon snack.

Bardak said the shelter gets about 20,000 visits a year and around 60 each day.

The shelter is currently in the last six months of a three-year pilot phase. After that, the program moves to year-by-year funding and Bardak is hoping to see the appointment of a navigator.

"It would be like a caseworker position," she said. "Someone who could walk people through the step-by-step processes of getting help and addiction counselling."

Beaulieu said in the legislative assembly he couldn't speak to what future services would be offered at the shelter, but he said counselling services are available within a short distance from the shelter and maybe information could be provided to people who stay at the shelter.

Bardak said just telling people about what's available doesn't work.

Jordie Bezaire works at Harley's Hard Rock Saloon, which is separated from the shelter by a parking lot, and said every day it's the exact same thing with people lined against the building drinking.

"My truck is filled with empty mickeys at the end of every day," he said. "Don't get me wrong, the shelter is a good thing, but it's the wrong way to do it. All they do is drink all day. They shouldn't let anyone in unless they're sober."

Bardak said although the shelter has double the amount of staff required, when it gets busy there's no way to constantly supervise both outside and inside the shelter.

"If we catch people we say they can either pour the bottle out or leave and come back a few hours later," she said. "If those folks were sober tomorrow they would still be disabled."

In an interview, Hawkins said he's been a big advocate of the shelter, but right now it's a missed opportunity for tackling problems like addiction issues.

"Every day we should be sending addiction counsellors to talk to these people," said Hawkins.

"One day someone will be ready for a treatment program and that's the day we have to be there for them. We have to give them a chance."

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