The location of Inuvik’s emergency warming shelter could change in the new year, with its lease set to expire in December.
Mayor Natasha Kulikowski said the town is looking at plots of municipal land that could house the centre, adding there was no threat to remove the lease but its expiry had “opened up a conversation” about the facility’s most suitable home.
The John Wayne Kiktorak Centre – named for a former Aklavik fire chief and Inuvik volunteer firefighter whose body was found frozen outside on Christmas Day 2015 – allows people experiencing addiction, mental health issues, and homelessness to spend a night out of the elements.
The centre has been based on Inuvik’s Berger Street since 2015, when the town’s Anglican church stopped hosting what it termed the “wet shelter,” saying it was too costly and may be doing more harm than good.
Inuvik, with a population of around 3,150, has a separate homeless shelter with a zero-tolerance intoxication policy. By contrast, the Kiktorak centre – commonly referred to as the emergency warming centre – allows people to be intoxicated, although they cannot consume substances while inside.
Kulikowski said the problems of public drinking and fighting near the centre have seemed “more evident” this past summer, with residents worried about its proximity to the school and the potential impact on tourism. At a meeting on October 9, several town councillors voiced similar concerns.
With the centre’s lease set to expire, Town of Inuvik municipal lots could be an option for a new location. Council minutes show that while he supported a move out of the downtown core, Councillor Clarence Wood warned that a move too far away would mean “most people would not use it and would end up downtown anyway.”
“While completely acknowledging that moving the shelter will not fix the social issues that go with it, it could just give a better location even for the folks who are using the shelter,” Kulikowski, the mayor, told Cabin Radio. “So that’s kind-of where we’re at today, examining possible locations.”
Ruling out the Town of Inuvik becoming the centre’s operator, the mayor said staff will spend time with the warming centre’s board to help decide how its future should look.
“We don’t want to see it shut down and we’re not threatening to remove their lease by any means,” she said. “It’s just that, with the lease expiring, it actually was able to open up the conversation a little more.”
The need still exists for a facility like this, Kulikowski added. Before the centre opened, she said, people would stay with friends or underneath the utilidor or other buildings. When a group came together to open the warming centre, said Kulikowski, “it was really to make sure that those people who were potentially sleeping under buildings or in unsafe places had a safe, warm place to go each night.”
A 2015 study noted RCMP reported fewer people in jail cells during the operation of the shelter, and a decrease in charges against the centre’s guests. The study said this showed the centre was having a positive effect in terms of the “appropriate use of police services.”
The centre sees an average of 15 to 19 clients per night, with a capacity to let in 24. For the time being, the centre operates 22 hours a day, closing between 3pm and 5pm.