The warming centre in the village of Fort Simpson is now set to receive territorial funding after being operated by volunteers during the holidays.
Mayor of Fort Simpson Sean Whelly says the NWT Housing Corporation is creating a contribution agreement for the village to operate the centre and acquire funding to do so.
A job posting from January 12 states the village “will soon be hiring a manager and workers” for the warming shelter.
That comes just in time, says Whelly, as the centre was only able to run on volunteer support over the holidays since volunteers could give up entire nights to stay up and monitor the centre.
When work began again, it became harder to find people who had the availability.
“The volunteers are still plugging away and trying to keep it going until the village officially takes it over,” Whelly told Cabin Radio late last week.
“We don’t have a lot of volunteers out there. They were being kind-of drained a bit, and we didn’t have enough to put two people in the shelter at once, so there’s always that worry for the volunteers.
“At least the village, as it looks to take over, can use the experience over the last few weeks to jump in there and capitalize on our experience.”
Fort Simpson opened its emergency warming centre in mid-December, during a cold snap, with Whelly saying the community could no longer wait for the territorial government to provide the go-ahead because the situation was extreme.
“The weather is deadly cold outside and while we wait for government to give us some badly needed assistance, we have to do our best,” Whelly said on Facebook on December 18, the day the centre opened.
Since then, the centre has been serving two to seven people each night.
The village submitted a detailed proposal to the territorial government in December, asking for just shy of $180,000 to operate the facility.
About $80,000 was requested to hire four staff members to monitor the centre and assist people who come in.
The next-largest expenses were renovations and insurance.
The funding will allow the village to operate the warming centre until April 30, 2021.
The NWT Housing Corporation, approached three times for comment since January 4, had provided no response by the time of publication.
Serving an unexpected purpose
Muaz Hassan, a village councillor and driving force behind the creation of the centre, says the past few weeks have been a test for the community to see if they could operate such a shelter.
Originally, the plan was to open the centre overnight as a temporary place for people to warm up.
Hassan says the purpose of the centre has evolved since then, as village volunteers realized needs were different.
Not only are people experiencing homelessness using the centre, but also people either stranded in Fort Simpson without transportation or kicked out of their homes for a night.
“We started it so that we are protecting the community, protecting people from Covid-19,” Hassan said.
“Some people come in when they get out of a party or they’ve been kicked out by their spouses.
“With the Covid-19 situation, if someone got kicked out of a party or anything, you won’t accept them into your house because you don’t know whether they’ve been.”
“We accept them, that’s a reality we’re dealing with.”
In addition to donating their time, residents have donated mattresses, food and warm beverages, and supplies.
Hassan described frustration at the time taken to resolve the issue of how to fund the centre, particularly as the territorial government took its usual break over the holidays.
Need for a more permanent solution
The current fix for the warming shelter will expire once April ends.
Once that time is up, Whelly hopes to see the momentum maintained through the creation of a more permanent shelter with day services.
“We want to focus on trying to get the centre going and established for the night-time, that was the main priority,” he said.
“If we can do that until the end of April, then we’ll see.
“I think a society or some other community groups will probably take this shelter idea to the next level.”
Hassan echoed that call. He hopes to see more opportunities for those experiencing homelessness to access resources and services, alongside a specific facility for women.
“There is a lot of potential for this centre,” he said. “My focus would be on a long-term, sustainable program.
“Different situations may come up in the future, and we have to be prepared to actively deal with them.”