Tuktoyaktuk’s House of Hope is offering a safe space for youth to play games and talk to a staff of volunteers about struggles they may be facing.
The Arctic coastal hamlet has been in what Mayor Erwin Elias previously described as a mental health emergency after a string of tragic events earlier this year.
From late November until last week, a prohibition order banned alcohol in the community in a bid, Elias said, to “calm things down.”
The House of Hope is a response to some of the pressures Tuk faces – and a place for people to gather and just be, said senior administrative officer Lucy Kuptana.
“They asked for a place to stop in and just be a group, just be us, without any other group involved,” she said, referring to young people in the community directly affected by the issue of suicide.
“They led this charge and they are calling themselves the House of Hope. It’s a group of older youth – most of them are working past school, have graduated, moved on, have their own little families.
“But they need a place to gather and be young people.”
Nathan Kuptana is one of the youth who helped to organize the House of Hope. He says the centre helps young people in the community who need a safe, warm place to be around other youth, especially now in a season of darkness.
“It’s a safe space to meet up and have a friendly chat,” he described.
“When people go there they play ping-pong, cards, checkers… they play around with instruments once in a while. It’s just a welcoming, safe place.”
Nathan says this is especially important for youth aged 18-30 in the community who might be facing turmoil at home. It’s an alternative to drinking, drugs, or lashing out toward others or themselves, he explained.
“When we first opened up, I told the kids if they wanted to talk about anything, we could go to the office and talk. I wasn’t expecting them to want to,” he said.
“But it must’ve been about six or seven people who came and opened up to me.”
According to Nathan, the House of Hope welcomes eight to 12 people per night, sometimes including teens as young as 16.
Elias says the hamlet was in need of a centre like this to fill a gap for younger people who don’t have other places to go at night. Right from the start, he says, the centre has been a hit thanks to those who stepped up to run it.
“We made the offer on the table, saying: ‘We’ll give you guys the keys, you guys run it and you guys do what you think needs to be done over there,’” he told Cabin Radio.
“It’s been amazing, they’ve been having good turnouts.”
The House of Hope is currently in Kitti Hall and is open Sunday-Thursday 9pm-1am, then Friday and Saturday 10pm-3am. Youth aged 18-30 are welcome, though Nathan says those as young as 16 can attend with special permission.
The NWT Help Line is available at any time of day or night on 1-800-661-0844. Kids Help Phone is also available around the clock at 1-800-668-6868 or you can use live chat or text options instead of calling. If you’re trying to help someone who is talking about suicide, the GNWT has a list of resources.
Ollie Williams contributed reporting.