A new warming shelter has opened in Hay River, offering a space for vulnerable residents in the community to warm up during the winter months.
The Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, which is funding the day shelter, officially announced its creation on Thursday. The shelter, which has been open in some form for about a month, is located at the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre on Gagnier Street.
Cheryl Melanson, president of Soaring Eagle’s board, said the shelter is designed to complement services offered by the town’s new emergency shelter on Industrial Drive.
The emergency shelter opened in mid-November and is operated by the Hay River Council for Persons with Disabilities. Those using it must leave the building in the morning and aren’t able to return until later at night.
Melanson said this left people with nowhere to go during the day.
“That was concerning because we did have a few incidents where they were freezing, or they were breaking into places to stay warm,” Melanson said.
“We had a spot open and the people available, so we thought, ‘You know what? I think we can do this.’”
The day shelter will provide coffee and meals, extra clothing, and access to wellness workers and social supports such as employment services.
Visitors will also be able to participate in Soaring Eagle’s programming, such as connecting with Elders or painting and drawing.
Covid-19 safety and social distancing protocols are in place.
The space is strictly sober; however, staff can help direct those struggling with addictions to appropriate resources.
Melanson said the centre is currently being renovated and looking to add services such as showers and laundry. It will expand its hours of operation from five to seven days a week.
“With the colder climate approaching, we are very pleased to be able to provide this service to members of our community without a place to go during the day,” Erin Griffiths, chief executive of Hay River’s health authority, stated in a news release on Thursday.
“We are very grateful for our community partners who have stepped forward to provide this much needed service.”
Melanson said a pilot version of the program began a month ago, Since then, about 20 people a day have spent time at the shelter.
The importance of having such a space cannot be understated, she added.
“It’s fellowship for everyone to know that you’re not alone,” she said.
“You may be struggling with addictions or homelessness, but we’re here. We’re here to support you … and we’re certainly here to fill those gaps for them.”