Amid frigid temperatures, Fort Simpson warming shelter to open ahead of schedule

·2 min read

In Fort Simpson, N.W.T., community members and volunteers are opening a warming shelter this Friday night — ahead of schedule.

The early opening was prompted by extremely cold temperatures in the Dehcho region and across the Northwest Territories. Sean Whelly, mayor for Fort Simpson, said he is grateful that the community is able to provide a safe space for people during these exceptional times.

The shelter is set to open this Friday at 11 p.m. and will remain open until 7 or 8 a.m. Saturday. The shelter, for now, will mainly be furnished with donations from the community, but there won't be beds. It will be monitored by volunteers and will open on weekends and when the temperature drops below -30 C.

Hannah Paulson/CBC News
Hannah Paulson/CBC News

Business owner forges ahead

Muaz Hassan, owner of the Unity Store, has been paying out of pocket for renovations to get the shelter up to code. The warming shelter is opening in his store's previous location, a building he owns.

Hannah Paulson/CBC News
Hannah Paulson/CBC News

When the shelter opens, Hassan said he will be providing water, coffee, tea and food for those in need.

He said he felt motivated to open the shelter on Friday evening because he's worried that the pandemic has made it harder for people to find a place to stay and that the cold temperatures may put people at risk.

The inter-agency committee tasked with developing the warming shelter sent out a funding proposal this week to the territorial and federal governments.

But, said Whelly, "we really can't wait over the Christmas holidays to find out what the answer will be. We have to do something tonight."

Mayor thanks community for help opening the shelter

Despite limited resources, the community has rallied to ensure people have a safe space to go.

Whether they're experiencing housing insecurity or they're in a tough spot and need somewhere to warm up, people know a place is available to them, Whelly said.

"Hopefully this kind of standing volunteer effort will get us through until we can get a bit of funding going and have more stable operations," he said.

"I got to say, thanks to everybody who's been participating so far and doing as much as they can … If you just do something, others see it and they jump into it."

Hannah Paulson/CBC News
Hannah Paulson/CBC News