Inuvik shelters are now part of the GNWT file – and that’s a good thing

Last week we learned that Housing NWT is preparing to continue operating Inuvik’s homeless and warming shelters for at least another year.

The move is a reversal of ongoing government pledges to return the two facilities to local governance. But in all honesty, it’s not for lack of trying on the part of the GNWT. Of the three organizations that initially came forward to take over, only one completed the process and that organization, we are told, was only willing to run the relatively benign homeless shelter. The Active Warming Shelter continues to struggle to find a local agency willing to take on the responsibility.

We are told the plan is to find a way to accommodate the sole bidder, but given the challenges facing both organizations and the homeless people in Inuvik, perhaps it is time for the GNWT and the community to accept the status quo.

Let’s not forget how we got here — the volunteer Inuvik Warming Shelter Board of Directors was stretched beyond the capacity of its resources. A volunteer board had resigned, after initially suggesting folding the company into the homeless shelter, and the second board eventually gave way to the current situation. The costs and responsibilities of simply maintaining the facilities as they currently exist are far beyond what a voluntary organization can or should be expected to do.

Poverty and homelessness are multi-faceted issues that connect addictions, mental health, education and more trauma than most of us will or will ever experience. Solving these problems requires a contingent of specialists to work with people as they unravel the web of issues that keep them on the streets.

With Housing TNO spearheading the operation, the GNWT should at least be able to get an overview of the issues surrounding the two facilities and offer real solutions to them. But shelter stabilization is only part of that. Shelters are the point of last resort, when people have nowhere else to turn. To really solve the problem, we are going to need additional funds to provide housing for people.

It is well documented that providing housing to people experiencing poverty empowers them to solve their other problems. When you know you have a safe place to sleep, a place to store your food, and possibly a TV or something to keep you busy when you’re bored, it’s much easier to say no to other substances that eliminate someone’s instinct for these basic needs. When you have access to a shower or a bath, it’s much easier to show up for a job interview or just feel good about yourself.

We have to accept that we need more resources to fight poverty in the Beaufort-Delta than we have here. Rather than continuing to dangle promises to hand over these shelters to organizations that may be paying for more than they realize, the GNWT must accept that as a government, it is its responsibility. Trying to turn Inuvik’s poverty case back to the volunteers will just lead to more broken hearts and bad blood. This is a serious problem that requires long-term work by qualified professionals. And we must welcome these professionals as our own.

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