Aurora Village healing camp, a safe space for those experiencing homelessness and addiction, is set to close on April 7.

Nestled in the bushland, just 15 km outside of Yellowknife, the popular tourist spot turned healing space is home to 21 people — some of whom will return to the streets when it closes, jeopardizing the progress they made in the program.

“They are in a beautiful journey now — they haven’t drank. Now my friends are saying: ‘Where am I going to go? Back to the streets,” said Wilbert Menacho, who fears many will return to their addictions. “I’ve lived on the streets before, I know what it’s like.”

Menacho has lived at the camp since November 2021, and provides guidance as an Elder.

He explained that the camp is more than a safe home, it’s a healing space based on traditional rituals and ceremony.

“We feed the fire every Friday, and pray for all people,” said Menacho. “On the land — that’s where you heal. We feel beautiful out here.”

The program has seen 60 or 70 guests, many of them have secured employment and achieved sobriety.

“We need more money to keep us going. We need our leaders and our MLAs to keep this open,” said Menacho. “I’m really sad that it’s closing because it’s working.”

He added that the camp has reduced the number of “drunk tank” admissions in downtown Yellowknife.

“I would suggest there has been a reduction in the volume of police interactions with the vulnerable population,” confirmed RCMP Insp. Christopher Hastie. “This camp offered a sense of personal security, coupled with enhanced, Indigenous-led care and treatment to individuals, who are often marginalized by society, struggling with significant personal, physical and mental trauma and lack the necessary and appropriate, real-time supports and assistance.

“This initiative was an entirely invaluable and a positive experience for many vulnerable people from the Yellowknife area who participated,” said Hastie.

Tony Kakfwi, the Dene Nation’s director of lands and environment, called the camp a “success,” and he’s disapointed they have run out of money continue.

The program received $2.8 million from Indigenous Services Canada to operate the camp from November 22 to the end of March. The Dene Nation contributed funds to keep the program going until April 7.

The camp was originally designed to protect people experiencing homelessness from Covid-19.

“Most of the money we accessed came from the Covid pot, so now there has not been the same amount of funds available this year,” said Kakfwi. “We are in ‘hurry up and wait mode’ with the new federal budget. Hopefully we can find some dollars there to reopen the camp.”

Costs to run the program include rental of the facility, staff, vehicles, harm reduction supplies and winter clothing.

“Some arrived with nothing, no clothing, no gear,” said Kakfwi.

The camp bought snowmobiles, fishing gear, and toboggans to keep the campers active and entertained.

During their stay, many campers secured employment at Aurora Village’s sister company and in the diamond mines.

“Some spent their off rotation (from the mines) at the camp. Some went to rehab programs in the south and others found living quarters in town,” said Kakfwi. “Overall, we think we were quite successful in those ventures.”

And, Kakfwi noted, not one guest contracted Covid.

“What we’ve seen recently is the stress of the guests. It’s really bad,” he said. “Some are so afraid to go back on the streets with no place to live, and it’s a sad situation.”

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