Last week we learned Housing NWT is preparing to continue operation of the Inuvik Warming and Homeless Shelters for at least another year.
This decision is a reversal from ongoing promises from the government to pass the two facilities back to local governance. But in fairness, it’s not for a lack of trying from the GNWT. Of the three organizations who initially came forward to pick up the mantle, only one completed the process and that organization, so we’re told, was only willing to operate the comparatively benign homeless shelter. The active warming shelter continues to struggle to find a local agency willing to be liable for it.
We’re told the plan is to figure out a way to accommodate the lone bidder, but considering the challenges faced by the two organizations and unhoused people in Inuvik, it may be time for the GNWT and community to accept the status quo.
Let’s not forget how we got here — the volunteer run board of the Inuvik Warming Shelter was at its wits end, stretched past the capacity of its resources. One volunteer board had resigned, after initially suggesting folding the society into the Homeless Shelter, and the second board ultimately gave way to the current situation. The costs and liabilities of simply maintaining the facilities as they currently exist are far beyond what a volunteer organization can or should be expected to do.
Poverty and homelessness are multi-faceted problems interconnecting addictions, mental health, education and more trauma than most of us will ever live with or know. Addressing these issues requires a contingent of specialists to work with people as they unravel the web of problems that keep them on the streets.
With Housing NWT running the operation, the GNWT should at least be able to get a full view of what the problems are surrounding the two facilities and afford real solutions to them. But stabilizing the shelters is only one part of this. Shelters are the point of last resort, when people have no where else to turn. To really solve the problem, we’re going to need additional funding to bring housing for people to live in.
It is well documented that providing homes to people in poverty allows them the means to address their other problems. When you know you have a safe place to sleep, a place to store your food and possibly a television or something to keep you occupied when bored, its a lot easier to say no to other substances that eliminate someone’s instinct for those basic needs. When you have access to a shower or bath, its a lot easier to present yourself for a job interview or just feel comfortable in your own skin.
We have to accept that we need more resources to address poverty in the Beaufort Delta than we have here. Rather than continue to dangle promises of passing these shelters to organizations that may be taking on way more than they realize, the GNWT needs to accept that as the government this is its responsibility. Trying to return Inuvik’s poverty file to volunteers will simply lead to more broken hearts and bad blood. This is a serious problem that requires long-term work by qualified professionals. And we need to welcome those professionals as our own.