Fort Simpson hopes to create its first community warming shelter to help those who may need a safe space to go during the cold winter months.
Representatives of various governments in the region met in November to discuss the logistics of creating a centre. A proposal is now being drafted for submission to the territorial government.
Sean Whelly, Fort Simpson’s mayor, said some people who visit from other communities end up stuck in the village and are most at risk. Such a centre would ensure they have somewhere to go.
Local interest in creating a warming centre was first reported by the CBC.
With the Covid-19 pandemic ongoing and the village’s liquor restrictions soon to be lifted, Whelly feels there may be a greater need for a shelter.
“We’re really trying to be ready with this warming centre in case we get a case or two of Covid showing up in Simpson, or we get a surge of drinking when the regulations are lifted,” he said.
“If we got an actual Covid case in Fort Simpson, I could just see doors closing and people shutting down. These stranded people would be really hard-pressed to find any couch to surf on.
“You don’t want to even see one person dying because of something like that.”
The village is hoping to use the old Unity Store as the location for the facility. The store moved to new premises across the street earlier this month.
Renovations are already under way to prepare the former store space.
The NWT Housing Corporation has offered to donate $10,000 to get the project off the ground, according to Whelly.
He said the Líídlįį Kúę First Nation (LKFN) will take responsibility for the facility while the village will be “in the background” supporting the project’s operations.
The aim is to have a staff member present at all times and have the facility open 24 hours a day when temperatures drop to their coldest.
The proposed location is close to the liquor store. Whelly said that is not a major concern as the staff member should be able to help individuals if they need further care and prevent potential vandalism.
Whelly expects the centre to have chairs and tables for people to rest while they have a hot drink and escape the cold. The provision of beds is not currently anticipated.
Muaz Hassan, owner of the Unity Store and a village councillor, said the move to give people a safe place was more important than using his old store space for storage.
Hassan said he offered his old store in part because LKFN had proposed pausing one of its own programs so that program’s building could be used as a shelter.
“That was really painful to see, a successful program being shoved because people may have identified a new priority,” he said.
Hassan said the village normally has bylaw officers tour the community in the winter months to find individuals out in the cold and help them reach a warm place.
The village hopes to eventually find a more permanent solution.
“We’d like to have, eventually, something more substantial in the way of a place where people could have rooms and go to sleep and stuff like that,” Whelly said.
“Initially, this drop-in warming centre is probably going to give us a much better grip on what we’re dealing with.”