Staff at Inuvik Warming Shelter say they are routinely subject to racism and violence from clients and feel they are being unfairly portrayed in the news media.

Several workers at the shelter spoke to Inuvik Drum on condition of anonymity, because Housing NWT forbids its employees from speaking to the media. They say the public is only hearing one side of the story.

“One staffer was just cooking, and this client just comes in (cursing and) says, ‘Immigrant, I’ll kill you!’ And then she’s ready to throw hot water on this lady,” one worker stated. “They’ll say we’re stupid, that we’re only working for money. We work with the heart when people are saying that to us, we try to understand them. But every day you can hear that.”

A large portion of the staff at the Inuvik Warming Shelter are Filipino Canadians, many of whom have lived in Inuvik for more than a decade. In total, there are eight Filipinos, one Nigerian, one Zimbabwean, one Caucasian, one Pakistani and 10 Indigenous or ‘Priority One’ (P1) employees currently working at the shelter, explained the workers.

Since Housing NWT took over the Inuvik Warming Centre and the Inuvik Homeless Shelter in July of 2021, the government and workers have been subject to several public accusations of mismanagement, including banning several people from the wet shelter and withholding food. The workers say people have been misinformed about circumstances surrounding those issues.

In the event a client is being violent or dangerous, Housing NWT spokesperson Ben Fraser said the policy is to put the client on a restricted list, which bars them entry to the shelter for a short-term period. Staff are required to regularly review the list to ensure it’s being enforced. Longer-term restrictions could be put in place in extreme cases, usually violence that leads to physical injury. However, no one is ever permanently banned, and he said shelter staff always try to work with a client before placing them on a restricted list. Repeat offenders may be placed on a behaviour contract, with restricted access to the overnight shelters if they breach it.

Fraser added disciplinary measures are in place for staff who abuse restricted lists to bully clients. Staff are not permitted to touch clients — if someone is out of control or getting violent, the policy is to phone the RCMP.

This policy is the same for both the Inuvik Homeless Shelter and Warming Centre, added Fraser.

The workers said, in practice, that usually means a troublemaker is banned from the shelter for a total of three days during the summer. In the winter, when being outside is potentially deadly, the police take them into custody.

According to the workers, since Housing NWT took over operations of the shelter, four individuals have been subject to the restricted list. One individual allegedly groped a staff member and nearly choked her, then reportedly told them he would return with a gun and shoot the staffer. He also allegedly threatened to take a child from the nearby school “into the bushes.” A second person was banned for three days after being accused of forcing himself on another client — the workers said it took two staff members to pull him off. Both men have been criminally charged and their cases are before the courts. A third incident involved the woman who threatened to pour near-boiling water onto a staff member. She has also been charged. Meanwhile, another man allegedly broke a staff member’s two fingers and damaged the worker’s face and is accused of assaulting another client. All of the incidents involved extreme intoxication, said the workers. Inuvik Drum has chosen not to name the clients accused in the incidents because they are currently before a court of law and honour the workers’ request for anonymity as they fear repercussions from their employer.

Part of the controversy, the shelter staff told Inuvik Drum, is because of client-confidentiality staff cannot tell people about what is in each client’s file without the client’s written permission. So inquiries as to why a person was banned from the shelter go unanswered, fuelling speculation and outrage.

Other accusations recently levied against the staff in the news media include clients complaining that staff would not give them food. The workers said they’ve been explicitly told by both RCMP and health authorities not to give heavily intoxicated people food, because it’s both a choking hazard and could also lead to uncontrolled vomiting — also a choking hazard.

The workers said they wish the community would stop treating them like villains, pointing out that they wouldn’t be working in the shelter under such conditions if they didn’t genuinely care.

“Maybe their Elders they can talk to them and help them to accept us as human beings,” said a worker. “We want to support them. The community should be supporting us, not saying ‘How come it’s all immigrants?’”

Eric Bowling

Your source for all things happening in the Beaufort Delta. Eric jumped at the chance to write for the Inuvik Drum after cutting his teeth in Alberta. He enjoys long walks, loud music and strong coffee....

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  1. “How come it’s all immigrants” is a silly comment. Do the math: 10 of 21 staff members are indiginous P1 hires. Maybe only the immigrants show up for their shifts on a regular basis, so because of that they’re more visible. Filipinos are great workers and the north would not survive without them