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Inuvik's shelters set to reopen after declaration of outbreak

·4 min read

Officials at the N.W.T. Housing Corporation are working to reopen at least one of Inuvik’s two shelters by Saturday.

Both shelters closed after a localized COVID-19 outbreak was declared this week. Eleanor Young, the housing corporation's president, said staff and clients needed to isolate and arrange for testing.

While Young told Cabin Radio staff were working to reopen one shelter on Friday night, a later update to the corporation's Facebook page stated the shelter at 185 Kingmingya Road is now expected to open on Saturday.

The town's Mackenzie Hotel is accommodating people who need to isolate. Young told Cabin Radio people experiencing homelessness are staying at the hotel until shelters reopen.

“Much like what happened here in Yellowknife when a similar situation happened about a month ago, the COVID-19 Secretariat made sure the isolation centre hotel was available to anyone who required a warm place to sleep,” she said.

Young said the reopening of Inuvik's shelters was contingent on staff receiving negative test results.

“At that point, anybody who has either tested positive or is awaiting results will be at the Mackenzie," she said. "Anyone who has a negative test will be able to use the Inuvik warming shelter.”

Earlier on Friday, the territorial government said community spread was beginning in Inuvik. The town now has eight active cases of COVID-19.

There has been criticism of communication surrounding this week's shelter outbreak.

Asked on Thursday about the Inuvik shelter closures, Premier Caroline Cochrane said the question was “the first I’m hearing about both shelters in Inuvik being closed, so we’ll have to look into that and make sure that we have services for other people.”

Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler told News North on Thursday she had contacted housing minister Paulie Chinna and the premier to try to get answers about what the homeless population was supposed to do in the shelters' absence.

Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby similarly expressed frustration in a Facebook post that appears to have since been deleted. Nokleby complained of a lack of communication with regular MLAs and questioned the premier's apparent lack of awareness regarding the shelters' closure.

“How does the premier not know about a regional centre’s shelters closing until a full day after?” Nokleby asked.

Inuvik’s shelters had only just reopened under the new management of the housing corporation and a range of partners.

In July, the corporation took control of the warming and overnight shelters by terminating an agreement with the Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre Society.

The warming centre – where people who are intoxicated can find a warm meal and place to sleep – closed for the summer before reopening in early October.

In the past, the shelter has had difficulty securing a lease, trouble accommodating social distancing in its limited space, and problems with burnout among its volunteer board. Multiple board members resigned at one meeting.

Young said “challenges in the stability of operations” made it necessary for the housing corporation to step in, though only as a temporary measure.

The corporation hopes to bring in trained staff and work with outside groups to eventually hand over control of th shelters.

The Gwich’in Tribal Council said the need for shelter services had grown in recent years.

In a statement, the council complained of a lack of supports "for the complex issues that our residents face in relation to their mental health, which is the underlying factor in most, if not all of these situations."

The council called for an "honest look at how mental health and addiction needs to be addressed in a good and supportive way.”

Better transitional support was one example the organization gave of an improvement that could be made.

“The underhoused population go from the street or shelter into housing without the transition support they require, so it’s only a matter of time – sometimes as short as a few months – where these individuals are often evicted and back to the bottom of the list for housing and the cycle continues," the council wrote.

Young said stabilization of shelter operations was her priority as winter looms.

She said the aim was to create a secure service so people don't "have to worry on a day-to-day or month-by-month basis whether the shelter will be open and available to them."

Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio

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