Homeless individuals will no longer be able to seek shelter in the lobby of Stanton Territorial Hospital starting May 21, although health officials say they are working on “next steps” for supporting those people.

“In anticipation of warmer weather, Stanton Territorial Hospital is planning for the closure of the pilot warming initiative,” stated David Maguire, spokesperson for the NWT Health and Social Services Authority, in an email to Yellowknifer.

Maguire said the decision was made by Stanton’s chief operating officer – currently Les Harrison – and added the program was always intended as a pilot initiative during the winter months.

“It is our hope that the establishment of a safe ride and sobering centre program in the near future will help to ease the pressure created when clients who are intoxicated or seeking shelter from the cold weather present at the emergency department,” stated Maguire.

But the GNWT still has yet to establish a sobering centre.

Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy said in March his department was having trouble finding a suitable location downtown for the facility.

It is still unclear how close the GNWT is to securing a space.

In March, the city also announced it was putting the brakes on a safe-ride program until it has access to a van and the sobering centre was up and running.

Stanton hospital began allowing homeless individuals to seek shelter in its registration area last November after Colin Goodfellow, the hospital’s chief operating officer at the time, sent an e-mail to staff about the idea.

He said the hospital would provide food and water to people who are not in need of medical care, but who have nowhere to go after homeless shelters have closed or are full for the night.

Homeless individuals were allowed to stay in the registration area as long as there was no fighting, no bothering of patients and no begging.

Intoxication would not be tolerated either, the e-mail stated.

Goodfellow is no longer the chief operating officer at the hospital as of April, although the reasons for his departure are unclear.

The lobby policy caused frustration among some people represented by the Union of Northern Workers (UNW).

In January, UNW second vice-president Marie Buchanan expressed concern about staff and patient security.

Frank Walsh, UNW Local 11 president representing more than 500 union members at Stanton, said some staff brought concerns forward about the lobby policy over the winter, but the employer, union and labour relations dealt with them.

“We talked through the problems that were brought forward in a meaningful fashion and everyone seemed to agree … this is a good thing for the homeless in Yellowknife,” Walsh said. “But I can’t emphasize enough that it probably could have been rolled out a little better.”

He said there could have been more involvement from the union and employees before the policy was implemented.

“But I think overall, if we’re reaching out, we’re helping people – particularly people in our own community – I don’t think it could be deemed a failure by any means,” he said, adding hospitals are in the business of helping people. “Nobody froze to death.”

Walsh said the policy served its purpose over the cold winter months, but understands the policy could be revisited in the future.

“It’ll be on our agenda certainly to discuss for the future,” he said.