An outbreak of Covid-19 among Yellowknife’s most vulnerable residents appeared barely contained on Saturday as the city’s sobering centre, a vital overnight sanctuary, closed due to lack of staff.
Yellowknife’s day shelter closed two days earlier as the outbreak had sent so many staff home sick or into isolation that not enough people remained to safely open its doors. On Saturday, the NWT’s health authority said the sobering centre – in the same building – was now in the same situation.
All services in that building are now suspended “until further notice,” the health authority said in a statement, “due to further staffing shortages related to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak in Yellowknife.”
Yellowknife had 97 active cases of Covid-19 as of Friday evening. Sixty-six new cases have been recorded in the city in the past week. It’s not clear how many of those are among people experiencing homelessness or support workers, though there were 19 affected shelter users and 10 infected staff as of Tuesday.
On Saturday morning, NWT health minister Julie Green told Cabin Radio her government had appealed to workers across the GNWT to volunteer for redeployment to keep the facility open.
The health authority said it had “escalated requests for support to key partners,” listing the NWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, the NWT Housing Corporation, and the City of Yellowknife.
The authority said it had “requested urgent collaborative actions to address this critical service gap,” and could not set up an emergency shelter itself as it was already trying to cope with Covid-19 across the territory.
While there are other shelters in Yellowknife, the 50 Street day shelter – a place to stay warm and socialize in safety during daylight hours – and its adjoining sobering centre, a place to safely spend the night if intoxicated, together offer a unique service and provide capacity not easily replaced.
Even with the building open, the NWT government had spent months trying to reopen a second, temporary shelter to cope with demand.
“Services at the Salvation Army and women’s shelter remain accessible and are not impacted,” the health authority said. The Salvation Army had already stepped in to offer dinners after the day shelter closed, with breakfast and lunch still being issued from the day shelter site. Now, all activity at the day shelter will stop and the Salvation Army was said to be working with the health authority to start providing more meals.
“There is no defined end date,” the health authority said of the closure. “Services will begin to resume as staffing improves. Updates will be provided as they become available.”