Former client at Aurora Village healing camp struggles after returning to Yellowknife

·4 min read
Aurora Village, the popular tourist attraction outside of Yellowknife, served as healing camp to protect the underhoused population from COVID-19. It had federal funding that ran out in April.  (Travis Burke/ CBC - image credit)
Aurora Village, the popular tourist attraction outside of Yellowknife, served as healing camp to protect the underhoused population from COVID-19. It had federal funding that ran out in April. (Travis Burke/ CBC - image credit)

A former client of the Aurora Village healing camp says it has been difficult to readjust to life in Yellowknife after experiencing on-the-land healing, personal counselling and a teepee that he called home.

The man who attended the healing camp said he was making progress and if it reopened tomorrow, he would be back in "a heartbeat."

"It was a piece of serenity … in a homeless person's life," he said.

"I miss everything from out there … I'm thrown back in the gates of hell here."

He is now staying at the overnight shelters in Yellowknife. CBC has granted anonymity to the man due to possible repercussions in future employment opportunities.

The man said he'd been homeless on and off for about three years. He said he struggles with addiction, which took over his life after family issues emerged.

He holds down stints of temporary employment, but is usually back on the street once it ends. He said he is on a waiting list for public housing, but added he expects to be on there for a while.

"You know how housing is in the North, it sucks," he said.

Travis Burke/ CBC
Travis Burke/ CBC

Healing camp ran for 4 months

"It was an awesome experience," the man said of the Aurora Village healing camp.

The popular tourist destination outside of Yellowknife was turned into a healing camp that ran for four months from December until April 8.

He said in Yellowknife there are some resources, including his case manager who he called "awesome."

But it doesn't compare to what was available at the camp, which offered personal one-on-one counselling, elders onsite, traditional activities, fire feeding ceremonies and sharing circles.

"They helped you in ways that you don't normally get on a daily basis," he said.

"The door was always open for us."

He also participated in the managed alcohol program, a system that reduces a client's reliance on drugs or alcohol by offering small measured amounts of it that decreases over time.

"It did wean us off," he said.

Now that the camp has closed, the individual said he and his three other teepee buddies are back on the street.

"Now, a lot of my buddies, I walk in there, I see a couple of my buddies passed out on the floor of the shelter. That would never happen out there [at the healing camp]."

He said he's considering attending a treatment program in B.C., but he wishes there was an alternative in the North.

Still hope for reopening

Michael Fatt runs the Crazy Indian Brotherhood and is an advocate for the homeless population in Yellowknife.

Having been homeless at one time, he said he understands what the clients are going through.

He said the majority who attended the camp are "back into the soup."

Avery Zingel/CBC
Avery Zingel/CBC

Fatt said the closure has been tough on a lot of the former clients, many whom were recovering.

"They actually lose hope as a result of stuff like this," he said.

Despite that, Fatt said he's hopeful for the former clients that the camp will reopen.

It was run through Dene Nation with $2.8 million in federal funding that ran out as of April. A representative with Dene Nation said there is hope there will be more money for the camp.

There was no funding for the project by the territorial government.

Just what they needed

The camp opened to protect the homeless population from COVID-19, but numerous clients CBC News spoke with discussed the healing they achieved as a result.

Fatt said he wasn't surprised by the success.

"I know what's kind of needed," he said.

"You take them to a place like that, you find that they're thriving."

Fatt said the clients were sober as much as 90 per cent of the time at the camp.

Neesha Rao is the executive director of the Yellowknife Women's Society, which runs a number of programs that serve those who are underhoused.

She isn't associated with the camp, but said the pandemic prompted a lot of innovation for programming for the homeless.

And it's disappointing innovative programs like that are no longer being funded, she said.

Rao said research shows that spending money on providing housing for people ends up saving money in the long term, as other services aren't relied upon as heavily.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting