Yellowknife business woman fearful of violence around day shelter

April Desjarlais spends much of her work day monitoring security camera footage of the Yellowknife sobering center and day shelter.

The Metis business owner is located next door and is fearful from the violence she’s witnessed.

On April 10, Desjarlais called emergency responders after she watched a woman get knocked to the ground on the sidewalk outside of her office window.

“I was sitting exactly right here sitting with a client. I felt her head resonate on my feet because she was hit so hard and knocked unconscious for well over two minutes,” Desjarlais said.

The day before, Desjarlais attended a city hall meeting and voiced her frustration over what she attributed as a changed atmosphere in the area of the shelter.

(April Desjarlais monitors her security cameras in her Yellowknife office. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)

She said she’d pleaded for more communication well before the shelter opened.

“When the Health and Social services Department presented at city hall in Sept 2018, they had mentioned that was an open communication going on, a lot of dialogue between myself and their department,” she said.

“I had never even been introduced to them at that moment.”

Desjarlais said respects the work of the shelter staff and doesn’t see the issue as a “not in my backyard,” argument.

However, the shelter resides in the same neighbourhood as the downtown liquor store, and sits just a stone’s throw away while sharing an alleyway.

“The proximity of the day shelter to the liquor store is encouraging a never ending cycle of binge drinking and we see it day in and day out,” said Desjarlais.

“At the beginning in early morning it is a fairly happy atmosphere around here but as the day moves on and individuals are onto their second, third or fourth bottles that’s when the violence increases.”

(A fight breaks out near the Yellowknife shelter)

In an effort to gain traction and keep the public informed on what is going on, Desjarlais has taken to Facebook and created the “Yellowknife day shelter neighbours group,” posting several videos depicting altercations involved people presumably in the area because of the shelter.

The day shelter and sobering centre opened in September 2018.

Operations of the day shelter are managed by the NWT Disabilities Council, contracted by the territorial health and social service department.

APTN News requested an on-camera interview but was told no one was available to discuss the matter.

On the same block, property owner John Willistone said he, like Desjarlais, was not consulted prior to the shelter opened.

“No one came to us to say we are going to do this, do you have any suggestions. How do you think it is going to impact your businesses here,” he said.

Williston rents out the building on 51st Ave., which house businesses such as Subway and Korea House.

“We have had broken windows and fights in Subway,” he said. The poor guy who owns subway was been burdened with that.

“The  girls at Korea house there have been days where they lock the door and when they see a customer they quickly unlock the door and run out.”

Desjarlais is also losing business and said she is losing a tenant of a decade because of an alleged assault that took place as an employee was coming into work in the middle of the day.

She is now advocating for a good neighbor agreement involving all stakeholders in the area.

“If we had something in place, something that addresses all the challenges that we have and holds people accountable, maybe enforceable by a bylaw we really can see change on the street,” she said.

She admitted that she has seen an increase of RCMP presence since the videos posted on the Facebook group have been shared online, but she is afraid the support may only be temporary.

“We have actually seen RCMP stop individuals and dump their liquor. Even search their bags and jackets to only find more and more bottles. As they are walking into the shelter they are getting dumped. But is this just a reactionary thing,” Desjarlais said.

Until solutions to deal with the issues Desjarlais has cited she will monitor street fights from her office window.

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