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'Attack' by MLA personal, says day shelter boss
Lydia Bardak says Robert Hawkins is poorly informed; Hawkins says government
can't be seen supporting bad behaviour

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A war of words is erupting over Yellowknife's downtown day shelter for the homeless and it's starting to get personal, says the facility's executive director.

NNSL photo/graphic

Lydia Bardak, executive director of the John Howard Society, stands outside the Dene Ko Day Shelter with clients Jason and Hannah, who declined to give their last names Jan. 28. The shelter just received word its funding will be renewed for another year, although the announcement has brought out critics on the way the space is being run. - NNSL file photo

Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins insists his criticisms of the way the Dene Ko Day Shelter is being run aren't targeting anyone specifically, but Lydia Bardak, who has been the face of the shelter since it opened as a John Howard Society-run pilot project in November 2009, said she can't see his near daily remarks in the legislative assembly as anything but a personal attack.

"At the end of the day, I am the John Howard Society, and it's very hard not to take it personally," said Bardak, adding she doesn't understand why Hawkins has so much to say about the way the shelter is being run considering that she can't recall ever seeing him in there.

"At the end of the day, I know what we do, I know who we do it for and I know why we do it. At this point, I believe that many of the critics of the day shelter don't fully understand the work."

The furor began last Thursday when Hawkins suggested the shelter should be shuttered and a new manager found because of ongoing issues of public drunkenness and violence taking place outside the building.

"Why don't we just shut it down and start fresh properly?" Hawkins asked Health and Social Services Minister Tom Beaulieu, who had just announced the territorial government would contribute $175,000 to keep the shelter open for at least another year.

Hawkins pointed directly at day shelter management as the source of all its problems. What goes on inside and around the shelter becomes the government's business once it contributes funding to the project, he said.

"Fundamentally, it's got to be a safe and productive environment, and it cannot be one that protects people consuming (alcohol) or that type of stuff," said Hawkins. "The government can't be seen as funding a place where people go to do this."

On Friday, Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro told Yellowknifer she questions Hawkins' method of questioning day shelter management.

"I don't appreciate the line of questioning. Any service, any program should be evaluated and this is the end of a pilot project so, absolutely," she said. "I don't think this is an evaluation, I see it more as an attack, unfortunately."

It costs about $260,000 per year to operate the shelter, which is visited by about 60 people per day. The GNWT has agreed to pay $175,000 for the 2013-14 fiscal year and last December, the City of Yellowknife agreed to contribute $50,000. The bulk of the operating costs go to rent and paying shelter staff, said Bardak. Two staff must be present in the shelter at all times throughout the 12-hour operating day. Without more funding, there just isn't enough money for policing outside the shelter or to add programming, she said.

City councillor Niels Konge is also against the day shelter in its current form, although he recognizes the need for a shelter in downtown Yellowknife.

"I didn't feel safe in there," Konge said of his one and only time inside the shelter two years ago when he went in to offer a short-term labour position to clients for his construction company.

"They need to have some rules," he said.

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