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MLA calls for government to play larger role in NWT shelters

Last modified: June 4, 2021 at 2:11pm


During the legislative sitting that wrapped up on Friday, Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler drew repeated attention to burnout on the volunteer board of the Inuvik warming shelter.

The shelter has faced operational challenges in recent years, from difficulties securing a lease to accommodating social distancing in its limited space.

The warming centre is the only place in Inuvik where people who are intoxicated can get a warm meal and a place to sleep. It closed for the season in mid-May.

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In her member’s statement on Wednesday, Semmler mentioned recent snowfall and sub-zero temperatures that are persisting in Inuvik. The nighttime low in Inuvik is expected to dip close to freezing both days this weekend.

Semmler questioned why the territorial government isn’t providing more direct support for the daily operation of the shelter.

“Let’s secure some long-term funding for non-governmental organizations, so these boards – that are made up of community members that care – have enough to do the work they do and be able to hire adequate staff and pay for operations,” she said.

In response to questioning from Semmler, Paulie Chinna, the minister responsible for homelessness, confirmed she had committed a staff person to support the Inuvik shelter in the regional office.

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Ahead of the sitting, Semmler listed the shelter as one of her key priorities.

“It’s a nonprofit, non-governmental organization volunteer board that’s running our emergency shelter,” she told Cabin Radio.

“There’s only so many volunteers and once they get burned out and you don’t have a board and you start losing staff, things start to go. And the only people that end up feeling it are the ones that are utilizing the shelter.”

In the legislature on Wednesday, Semmler tied the issue of board turnover at the Inuvik shelter to the territory’s broader homeless strategy.

“The government needs to look at how we’re providing facilities for our homeless,” she said. “And if it’s burning out our non-governmental organizations that are volunteering, then maybe it’s time to look at running it through the government and having a place for people to sleep and eat every night.”

The NWT health authority closed the temporary day shelter at the downtown Yellowknife Mine Rescue Building on Monday. The territorial government plans to complete construction on a dual-purpose day and sobering centre in downtown Yellowknife by 2023.

Minister Chinna said on Wednesday that the government’s homeless strategy is under review and will be tabled sometime in the fall.

The volunteer board secretary for the Inuvik warming centre declined to comment when reached by phone. Other board members could not be reached for comment.

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