Yellowknife Women's Society pitches beefed-up street outreach, with $1.4M price tag

The Yellowknife Women's Society's current street outreach van, pictured here in 2018. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC - image credit)
The Yellowknife Women's Society's current street outreach van, pictured here in 2018. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC - image credit)

The Yellowknife Women's Society wants to add a paramedic, a retrofitted van and more harm reduction tools to its street outreach program.

The proposal, which the society presented to Yellowknife councillors Monday evening, comes with a price tag of up to roughly $1.4 million this year — about four times the amount the city usually provides.

About $350,000 of that would go toward van retrofits and gear to replace the program's ailing equipment, an initial startup cost that would only be required once. The remaining $1.1 million would become an annual budgetary ask, up from the $360,000 the program currently gets from the city.

It would add services like advanced first aid to the current street outreach program, and could also let the program offer case management services, said Shauna Morgan, a board member for the society and MLA candidate.

Morgan said it would also let the program dive deeper into harm reduction by having safe use kits on board and some initial drug and alcohol counselling or referral services.

She told councillors the enhanced system could also provide "pretty revolutionary" services, like mobile public health outreach — immunizations and testing for communicable diseases.

As for the van, city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett described the program's current vehicle as "quite a challenge." It's just a regular van and isn't meant for the level of wear and tear it gets, she said. It's been sidelined for major repairs in the past.

"I think it is quite a specialized vehicle that is required to be able to support, consistently, good programming," she said.

The ideas met with interest from some members of council, though no decision was made. Monday's meeting was a chance for councillors to ask questions, while debate will happen at a later date.

Some noted the request would require a property tax increase and questioned whether the federal or territorial governments could pitch in as well.

"To any territorial election candidates listening, it's extremely frustrating that the city needs to play a leadership role here," said Coun. Tom McLennan. "But I think that we can, and should."

Morgan, who presented, is running for the Yellowknife North seat.

Bassi-Kellett said said there was a time — one year, in 2018 — when both the federal and territorial governments contributed to the Street Outreach program.

"That was one time. It was glorious. We've never seen it since," she said — and not for lack of lobbying. Since then, the city has raised the issue with other levels of government, but those conversations haven't proved fruitful.

But without that funding piece from other levels of government, Coun. Steve Payne suggested it would be a heavy burden for the city to carry.

"We're a hurting city, we're a hurting population right now," he said. "If we keep adding and adding and adding — and I don't mind adding, if there's other partners coming to the table. The feds should be putting money in this. Definitely, the GNWT should be putting money in."

Payne said he would not be supporting the proposal unless other levels of government pitch in.

The proposal is less than the $2 million councillors mulled during a committee meeting earlier in October.

The city is still in the midst of building its 2024 budget, with a draft set to be publicly released on Jan. 15. The city will then be taking public input on the draft budget from Jan. 16 to 31, with councillors reviewing it between Feb. 5 and 8.

Councillors are set to vote on the final budget Feb. 12.