From left: Peggy Day, Susan Peffer and William Hurst react to winning the $495,000 Arctic Inspiration prize that made the Hope House possible, in a screengrab from the annual AIP broadcast.
Inuvik councillors have given conditional approval for the development of a new adult drop-in centre offering programming, administrative support and mental health services.
The centre, called the Hope House, will open at 83 Inuit Road in a building that used to house the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation’s Aboriginal Head Start program.
The Hope House will serve as a drop-in space where people can stop by, have a cup of coffee, develop new skills, and get help with paperwork if they need it. The centre will not be used as a shelter.
Opening a centre like this has been a longtime dream for Susan Peffer. She works for the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation as a health support worker and served as a board member for Inuvik’s dry shelter until Housing NWT took over its management last summer.
She said the community is missing a safe space where people can gather, spend time together, and feel supported.
“That’s how it used to be long time ago, in my parents’ days,” Peffer said.
“They had a specific place to gather. Elders had a place to gather. Everybody had somewhere to go. We didn’t feel left out as a people.
“That’s what we’re hoping Hope House will do, bring us back together again.”
Peffer has been working with Peggy Day, Lucy Kuptana and Veronica Kasook, all past members of the dry shelter’s board, to bring the Hope House to life. William Hurst, a resident of the dry shelter, has been working with them to design the Hope House.
“We’re looking at bringing in Elders, having a counsellor, doing sewing programs, cooking programs, and offering life skills and training,” Day said.
Peffer said the centre will try to remove administrative hurdles that often prevent people from connecting with housing, employment and education.
Calm, welcoming space
While a space open to anyone is important to Peffer, central to the project is a calm and welcoming environment for unhoused people to spend time during the day.
This, she admits, may mean turning people away if they are actively using substances to an extent that makes them “not coherent.”
In a presentation to council on Monday, Peffer said: “If they’re inebriated, we won’t allow that. We want our people to get well.”
The centre will be staffed by one full-time person as well as a counsellor offering mental health supports and referrals to rehabilitation programs.
Day was awarded a $495,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize earlier this spring to fund the operation for its first three years, after which more funding will be needed.
The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, owner of the building, submitted the application for development, but Peffer said the organization is otherwise not directly involved.
Hope House’s use of the building needed approval from town council because it falls outside the traditional use of buildings in the residential zone.
While many councillors agreed that Inuvik has needed a service like this for some time, Councillor Jesse Harder said he anticipates neighbouring homeowners will have questions about the planned use.
“I’m for the program. I just don’t know if the public is going to be for the location,” Harder said at a council meeting last Wednesday.
“It needs community support in order for this to work. We’re moving along pretty quick without giving anybody any heads-up as to what’s happening.”
The Hope House team had originally considered using the old warming centre building at 5 Berger Street, but decided repair costs would be too high.
After some back-and-forth on Wednesday, the development request was approved with three conditions. Council asked that:
letters be distributed to the five homes on either side of the centre prior to its opening;
the centre host an open house for the community to be introduced to the space; and
the centre contact local media to spread awareness about what it will be and what services it will provide.
The Hope House team estimates construction will take six weeks and is hoping the space will be open to the public by the end of the summer.