A group of individuals have joined forces in Hay River to provide a temporary shelter for homeless men.

One of the people helping is Tom Makepeace, who has been driving homeless men to a trailer on the Old Town property of Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson.

Makepeace explained the temporary arrangement resulted from discussions at the interagency group.

“I was sort of desperately afraid that one of these guys is not going to make it through, especially when I found out they’re sleeping in an unheated building,” he said when  asked why he became involved in the initiative. “One guy is actually sleeping in a tent with an electric heater. That’s not a good combination, either, if it catches on fire.”

The hope is that the temporary shelter will eventually be replaced by a more permanent solution, if some non-profit group can obtain government funding.

Tom Makepeace – one of a group of individuals helping homeless men in Hay River – stands next to a mattress on the floor of a trailer being used as a temporary shelter.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Makepeace said the temporary arrangement is suitable for the time being.

“It’s better than sleeping on the street or sleeping in empty buildings that these guys have been doing when it’s 35-40 below,” he said, noting the trailer has heat, a washroom, a microwave, a fridge and a sink.

“It doesn’t have beds, but it has good hospital mattresses,” he said, explaining the men sleep on the mattresses on the floor.

At suppertime every evening since about Dec. 20, Makepeace has been meeting the homeless men at NWT Centennial Library and driving them to the temporary shelter.

“It’s varied from two to three,” he said.

On Jan. 2, he drove two homeless men to the trailer.

“It’s awesome,” one of them said of the temporary shelter.

The man said he has sometimes spent 48 hours or more walking the streets to keep warm, or finding shelter inside entrances to buildings.

Makepeace estimated there are about 10 homeless men in Hay River, a number confirmed by one of them.

Sometimes the homeless men will meet Makepeace at the library and say they have found places to stay that night – perhaps a couch of a friend or family member – and sometimes they make their own way to the temporary shelter.

The homeless men – who range in age from their 30s to late 50s – have begun to establish house rules for the shelter.

“The first two rules they came up with – no drinking in the building, no smoking in the building,” said Makepeace. “And clean up every two days at least.”

The shelter can accommodate up to six or seven men.

The property owned by Simpson is up for sale as part of his well-documented financial problems.

“Somebody can come in there tomorrow, buy that, and say you guys get off the property,” said Makepeace.

On Dec. 12 in the Legislative Assembly, Simpson asked Paulie Chinna, the minister responsible for homelessness, if the GNWT is prepared to provide assistance to a non-profit group in Hay River to set up a temporary emergency warming shelter.

“Right now, I’m not in a place to make a commitment to look at, I guess, the homeless shelter,” Chinna replied. “I don’t know. I’d have to look at what our plans are for Hay River, what money we have committed, do we have infrastructure that actually exists in that community, and what is the program development. I’m not familiar with what are the non-profit organizations that actually exist in Hay River, but I am wanting to work with the member to find solutions to address this concern.”

Simpson warned the minister that someone might freeze without a shelter.

“I will have to identify funding sources that are available through the Housing Corporation that would meet the needs for the homeless shelter that wants to be established in Hay River,” said Chinna. “I do understand the needs throughout the Northwest Territories, and one of the ideas that I had, I am not going to commit to it, but I wanted to establish or have a homeless shelter in each of the regional centres because it is becoming a growing issue in our Northwest Territories. I am willing to work with the member, but I need to find funding or available programs that would meet the need for the shelter in Hay River.”

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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