The Centre of Northern Families is purchasing a new home for its daycare and family programs and planning to renovate its current building to provide more accommodation for women.
The announcement was made in a blog post on the centre’s website on Tuesday, and confirmed by Anusa Sivalingam, board chair of the Yellowknife Women's Society, which runs the centre.
“The responses about our plans have been positive and supportive; however, I would not commit that any folks from the GNWT had provided ‘assurances’ of their support to us at this time.”
“We will be moving our daycare and family programs this summer,” the blog post reads. “As well, we will be renovating our current building solely for women’s accommodations. This timing works out great with our previously scheduled exterior repairs from NWT Housing.”
Further details about the plan — such as how many daycare spaces the new building will have, and how many additional rooms will be made available through the renovations — are relatively scarce; Sivalingam declined an interview request, saying EDGE would have to wait until a media tour of the new building planned for next weekend.
The announcement, however, does suggest that the centre, which houses Yellowknife’s emergency shelter for women, may be getting back into transitional apartments — something it hasn’t offered since 2012 when it closed a three-bedroom transitional unit housed in a trailer.
The new apartments could help to bring in additional income for the organization that has often faced financial challenges. And it’s an idea broadly supported by Caroline Cochrane, the minister responsible for Homelessness and the NWT Housing Corp. (NWTHC) and former CEO of the centre.
Shelters receive funding based on the number of people they house each night, Cochrane explained to EDGE. With the move toward a city-wide Housing First model, some of this revenue will likely be lost.
“We can’t just move into Housing First and not ensure the sustainability of the emergency shelters,” she said, noting that shelters will always be needed by people arriving from the communities, even if Housing First proves successful for segments of Yellowknife’s homeless population.
A new building for the daycare is also welcome news. Last year’s annual report noted there were “plumbing issues in the children’s washroom,” and that the centre was having difficulty keeping the daycare program filled, partially because of its proximity to the shelter.
“We found that one problem, which arose in June 2014, was that the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority had removed several children from our care and placed them within another Child Care Centre,” the report notes. “It was explained to the Centre that our location within the shelter and potential access of parents to apprehended children is an issue for them, in addition to a perceived reluctance to report child abuse issues.”
While the report argued that centre staff are “well aware of their duty to report and [the] signs to watch out for,” it nonetheless suggested that “it would be beneficial to the growth of the Daycare and Family Programming to secure a separate building.”
How much support is there?
The online announcement suggests the plans are moving ahead post haste. However, NWTHC president Jeff Anderson told EDGE he’s heard nothing about the renovations beyond some basic repairs budgeted for last year. The building is owned by the NWTHC, meaning renovations would require their approval.
That said, the centre’s plan was well-received during a meeting on homelessness hosted last week by Cochrane, says Sivalingam: “The responses about our plans have been positive and supportive; however, I would not commit that any folks from the GNWT had provided ‘assurances’ of their support to us at this time.”
Cochrane, for her part, says she hasn’t made any behind-the-scenes promises to her former employer to help move the project forward. But she has been meeting with the centre, as well as the Salvation Army and the YWCA, to see if there’s the interest and capacity to operate transitional apartments in their buildings as a kind of “social enterprise.”
“I wouldn’t say I give preference to shelters, but they currently have the capacity to move forward with the least amount of funding,” said Cochrane, adding that shelters are already staffed 24 hours a day by professionals used to dealing with mental health and addictions issues. “Not everyone is going to be able to live in independent housing without intense support around them.”
A committee, led by Mayor Mark Heyck, will be reviewing 65 recommendations made by NGOs and other interested parties at last week’s roundtable on how to deal with homelessness.
If the committee finds that putting transitional apartments within existing shelters is a cost effective way to go, Cochrane says the NWTHC will be ready to issue an ‘expression of interest’ to shelters, like the Centre of Northern Families, that are willing and able to expand their long-term accommodations.