The only place in Inuvik where people who are intoxicated can get a warm meal and a place to sleep has a new three-year lease in hand.
The John Wayne Kiktorak Centre – commonly referred to as the warming centre – was at risk of having to move as its lease with the town was set to expire in December. But through a unanimous vote by town council, the centre will get to stay in its location on Berger Street, yet will also be allowed to break the lease should a more suitable location be found.
The centre’s executive director Mary Cockney said she is grateful for the lease extension as it gives the centre a chance to look for an alternate building and keep its funding flowing. Around 50 percent of its funding, Cockney explained, comes from the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, and a month-to-month lease was not helpful for securing additional funding.
During council discussions on whether to renew the lease, concerns were brought up around the centre’s proximity to the school, problems downtown including public intoxication and fighting, and the impact of the centre on tourism.
Following discussions, Mayor Natasha Kulikowski noted it was eye-opening to find “a lot of the issues that are getting blamed on the centre really aren’t so much with the people who are using the centre.” Kulikowski hopes to see the warming centre embark on a media campaign to help dispel some misconceptions about its role in the community.
“There is some feeling in town … that it’s just a flop house. You just get drunk and then you can go there,” she said. “While it is a warm, safe place for people to sleep, they’re also trying to do some programming.”
This programming includes in-house activities, like cooking for the Wednesday soup kitchen, and on-the-land opportunities.
The centre works with the Ingamo Hall Friendship Centre to plan week-long trips on the land. Hunters and trappers also open up their cabins for people who want to go out for a day or more, an initiative started by former executive director Joe Amos.
Some residents are really interested in going out and reconnecting with their culture, Cockney said, and she encourages the younger generation to also take part.
The centre has also hired a full-time emergency support worker to support people who use the centre.
Cockney agreed with Kulikowski that the community doesn’t understand what the shelter does – so she’s inviting everyone to a Christmas dinner on Wednesday at 5pm and an open house Friday from 10am to 3pm.
“If they’re interested and want to see what’s going on, the doors are open for them to stop by, have a tea or coffee, say hi,” Cockney said. She added soup kitchen Wednesdays are also a good time to come have lunch and socialize with the men and women who use the centre.
Fewer sleeping under buildings, utilidor
The 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. Kulikowski said the service can be lifesaving.
“For someone who doesn’t have a home to live in right now, if that person is out on the street, they’re certainly at risk of freezing … or actually passing away from the cold,” she said.
Inuvik, with a population of around 3,150, has a separate homeless shelter with a zero-tolerance intoxication policy. By contrast, the Kiktorak centre allows people to be intoxicated, although they cannot consume substances while inside.
Before the centre came into existence, those who were intoxicated and not able to use the homeless shelter would find spots to sleep under buildings, under the utilidor, or with friends.
While this may still be happening, Kulikowski said it’s likely happening a lot less now.
The centre has a capacity of 24 people per night. Cockney said there is an average of 19 people staying every night – these numbers are steady more or less throughout the year save for some summer months.