Here we are again.
This is now the third time a story about the Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre was broken through a whistleblower — and the second time the society running it has been on the brink — in less than a year.
In the fall, we were drawn into this when whistleblowers alerted the media about problems between the shelter’s on-site staff and the previous board of directors. Both sides had hit their limit with the other and there seemed to be little progress in keeping the centre in operation.
Accusations, largely unfounded, flew in both directions and the volunteer board ultimately decided it was unable to complete its mandate. So it called a meeting to announce their intentions to dissolve the society, which took everyone by surprise.
What wasn’t surprising was how the crowd reacted — with no base of information to work with, the board’s assertion that things had become so dysfunctional that a total reset was in order did not sit well. After a heated meeting, much of the board decided they’d had their fill of verbal abuse and stepped down, offering another group a chance to fix things.
A new volunteer board stepped up with great enthusiasm, which deflated almost immediately. Any willingness to explain what was going on to the community through the media hit a dead stop and for the winter we didn’t hear much about what was happening in the warming centre. A group of whistleblowers again approached the media to express their concerns with how the new board was asserting its authority, though nothing was written at the time.
Then, around the start of May when temperatures were still falling below freezing, Coun. Kurt Wainman expressed concerns about the shelter closing its doors. We reached out to NWT Housing Corporation for an explanation. After missing our deadline, NWTHC finally came back to tell us the centre was closed “for training.”
Following this Mary Cockney, a former executive director and up until recently a member of the new board, came forward to express her own concerns with how things were progressing. She said NWTHC was basically pushing the board aside and implementing its own agenda, which prompted her to resign from the board.
And now, solely because a letter from NWTHC to the board was slid under my door, we know the NWTHC is cutting off funding for the society and taking over both the Warming Centre and the Inuvik Homeless Shelter, which as far as anyone knows has been bereft of problems.
It may well be the right decision — two boards consisting of well-meaning volunteers have now been put through the grinder, solely for the crime of trying to help. Several people have confided in me they feel vilified by the situation. And the responsibility of keeping Inuvik’s homeless alive is a pretty serious one to leave to the care of volunteers. A more regimented approach through the government may be what the shelter needs.
But at the heart of this issue is an apparent lack of trust between the public, the staff at the centre, the people making the decisions and the people who actually depend on it to survive. NWTHC needs to be more transparent about what it is doing or this latest effort will also be doomed to failure.