Shelter behind bars
Cages the new social safety net, cops the new social workers
INCREASED POLICE PRESENCE DOWNTOWN
FIND A BETTER SOLUTION TO SHELTER CLOSURE
Northern News Services Editorial http://nnsl.com Yellowknife, NWT
“As each day brings the city closer to the social disgrace of being without a homeless day shelter, police are amping up their downtown patrols.
With 70 users daily at the shelter - which keeps people off the street, gives them a warm, safe place to retreat to use the bathroom, sleep or sober-up - there is bound to be a substantial impact come May 31, and Yellowknife needs to brace for it.
Although the RCMP does make up a portion of the resources such a population requires, its role is decidedly short-term. To remove a drunk and disorderly person from a downtown street, place them in a jail cell for the night and release them when they're sober, is addressing an immediate issue but ignoring an underlying cause. Valuable police resources are being diverted to putting the same Band-Aid on the same wound again, and again and again.
Without the shelter to supplement police enforcement in addressing complex social issues, the problems only perpetuate, putting a strain on our courts and jails, while doing absolutely nothing constructive for those caught in the vicious cycle of poverty and addiction.
This failure in services for the city's most vulnerable falls right onto the shoulders of the territorial government and the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority, for not finding an alternative when help was discovered the shelter was set to close and its building demolished.
When government fails to take care of its citizens who need it most the problems do not just go away -the costs linger through increased policing, ambulance calls and hospital visits.
While the homeless day shelter is not a standalone solution, it does help alleviate some of those costs -a person able to sleep off their drunkenness on a couch at the shelter is not going to be on the street and at risk of being taken to a jail cell to do that very thing - or at risk of consuming more alcohol, which could manifest into worse consequences.
It takes a balance of resources to achieve long-term solutions to the problems of addiction and homelessness. A four-pillar approach, like how the City of Vancouver tackles its addictions problems, means enforcement when it's due, harm reduction which would include the day shelter
when it helps, treatment when it's needed and prevention when it's possible.
Take away one of those legs and the whole thing topples. Increase enforcement, but eliminate harm reduction, and one is left with an imbalanced approach less likely to lead to a solution.
Unfortunately, the territorial government's view on this problem appears to amount to little more than substituting police officers for social workers and the city's safety net for homeless people with jail cell bars.
Last week, Yellowknife resident Kyle Thomas released his self-published book - Yellowknife Street Stories - which shares tales from the local street people population, bringing them to life and shedding some of their stereotypes.
It is this non-judgemental view those with the power to implement solutions must take, ensuring they help - rather than hurt - the population. Users of the doomed day shelter need social supports and structures rather than more officers, handcuffs and jail cells.”