Yellowknife’s downtown day shelter has closed indefinitely. So many staff have contracted Covid-19 or been sent into isolation that there are no longer enough healthy workers for it to operate.
The NWT’s health authority said on Thursday night that the situation was “rapidly developing.” Breakfasts and lunches will still be distributed from the day shelter’s location. Showers, bathrooms, and dinners will be available at the nearby Salvation Army.
The health authority said it would hold daily meetings with local non-profits and shelter operators to “ensure collaboration and coordination of services.” The sobering centre, in the same building, is not affected.
Earlier in the week, territorial officials said at least 10 support staff had been infected as an outbreak of Covid-19 was declared among Yellowknife residents who don’t have homes.
The number of staff infected as of Thursday was not clear. Some of the staff reduction is understood to be due to isolation as a result of exposure or on a precautionary basis and not necessarily illness.
The health authority said it would not provide specific details, but said there was “significant reduced staffing” due to the current outbreak and there were no longer enough employees available “to ensure the services delivered meet the needs of users and are safe.”
The number of people who use Yellowknife shelters who now have Covid-19 is also not clear. That number hasn’t been updated since Tuesday, when the GNWT said 19 shelter users had contracted the disease in the past month.
Workers at downtown shelters have for weeks queried the territory’s approach to an outbreak that began in the Sahtu but has, since mid-August, grown to affect 137 people in Yellowknife.
In late August, one former worker at a shelter said a “mad scramble” to find staff and places to isolate was putting people at risk.
“This is very concerning, that this thing is getting slapped together last-minute,” the former worker told Cabin Radio at the time.
“This can really get out of hand, really quick. I just feel like it’s really messy and it didn’t need to be this way.”
The health authority said on Thursday there was “no defined end date” for the day shelter’s closure. Even with Covid-19 capacity restrictions, dozens of people ordinarily rely on the shelter on any given day.
The authority said GNWT departments “are currently collaborating to address this urgent gap in service provision” and more information would be provided “when available.”
In a Facebook post, the Salvation Army in Yellowknife called the downtown shelter’s closure a “crisis situation” and pledged to keep its staff and clients as safe as possible.
“We remain hopeful that collaboration and public health measures will succeed in reducing the impact of COVID-19 on our community and the territory,” the Salvation Army wrote.
Clarification: September 9, 2021 – 22:17 MT. This article has been updated to clarify that while the NWT’s health authority has not provided details related to the lack of staff, isolation is a possible reason for staff unavailability alongside illness.