A former board member and executive director of the Inuvik Warming Centre says she’s very concerned with the direction the lifeline for many in the area has taken.
Mary Cockney said she resigned from the board earlier in the year after the NWT Housing Corporation moved in at the direction of Minister Paulie Chinna.
At the start of May, when temperatures were still dropping below zero overnight, the centre closed its doors for the summer. A spokesperson for NWT Housing at the time told Inuvik Drum the closure was to facilitate training for staff.
“It is very concerning that the doors have been closed to the Warming Centre without notice to anyone, let alone the clients,” she said. “There are a few questions that can be answered, but whom do we address the questions too?
“Does the Society still have a Board to speak for their clients? Who is responsible for the clients now? Why isn’t there day programs for the clients to feel free to have a hot meal at least once a day, maybe shower and wash their laundry if need be?”
Over the winter, the Warming Shelter was able to move to a building on Veteran’s Way for sleeping. The traditional warming shelter was transformed into a day-home to allow residents to cook, shower and go about their day to day business. This happened following a tumultuous meeting which saw much of the board resign and the society nearly dissolving. During that meeting, it was revealed the society was undergoing an audit.
Cockney said the audit was completed over March and April of this year and the society is in the black. She added she was under the impression the society had access to enough money to keep the shelter in operation until July.
One recurring issue Cockney highlighted was changes to the rules that prevent staff from barring problem residents. The issue has been a recurring one over the years that different boards have had to grapple with, but she added it was always the board and staff’s decision. She noted she had three rules when she was the director — be safe, be respectful of others and keep the peace. Now, Cockney says the board has no voice anymore, a contrast from when she was executive director of the shelter.
Top of mind for Cockney is that the shelter closed down entirely. She asked why NWT Housing can’t maintain a skeleton program while it reorganizes.
“We have very vulnerable people now on the streets,” she said. “And yet there is a pandemic in the midst, with all the emergency funds flying around and handed out left and right. There isn’t monies to keep the doors open to the Warming Centre?
“To at least be acknowledged as an human being and one hot meal a day. Is that too much to ask?”
Town comes together to provide hot lunches
While the Warming Centre itself was closed, the site was still active over June as volunteers came together to help provide nourishment for those in need.
Spearheaded by Mayor Natasha Kulikowski, the group of 30 volunteers rolled up their sleeves to cook hot meals and soup to be distributed over lunch hour each day.
“The Mental Health Working Group Held a multi-agency meeting to discuss the immediate needs of the folks who regularly access the Warming Centre,” she said. “One of the immediate needs identified was a warm meal each day. There is currently another group in town handing out sandwiches and snack bags.
“I know that the board will soon be posting a call for members, so I would encourage community members to reach out and join the Emergency Warming Centre board of directors.”