Check against delivery
Good afternoon and thank you for being here on such short notice for this important announcement.
As the new Minister of Health and Social Services I’ve got leadership responsibility for the well-being of all residents of the NWT. There are many issues that keep me awake and most recently, it has been how to keep the vulnerable population safe from the cold as winter approaches.
COVID-19 has changed the capacity of shelters as it has restaurants and movie theatres, to provide for physical distancing and other public health precautions. That leaves a bigger, unserved population at risk outdoors.
Day Shelters are intended to be space for people to go during the day and are especially important when we start to get colder weather, as we are now.
The number of residents that require access to this type of facility during the day exceeds the numbers currently permitted in the existing temporary day shelter. As many of you know, the GNWT has made several attempts to find a location that would accommodate the numbers required in one single location, or without requiring drastic measures like the one required today.
Staff at the Department of Health and Social Services looked at 26 locations as alternative spots: government buildings, private buildings, tents and ATCO trailers. None have panned out because they were unavailable, unsuitable or owners were unwilling to house a day shelter on their property.
As Minister Chinna said, the state of emergency announced today is an extraordinary step that our Government is taking to address this situation, and one that we are doing at the request of the City of Yellowknife, and with full support of Cabinet.
I am pleased to see this decision be made, but I want to ensure that the public understands that this is not a permanent solution. It is intended to address the immediate needs and keep our residents safe, while we work on finding a long-term solution.
Here’s the bottom line: The GNWT has a responsibility to protect the homeless and vulnerable population just as we do to protect all of us from being infected by COVID-19. The fact that many in the population that this announcement directly supports are in the grip of addiction doesn’t diminish their right to safety.
I’d like to thank Mayor Alty and the City of Yellowknife for partnering with the GNWT on this and to the many NWT residents who have supported GNWT endeavors on this matter.