Fort Simpson prepares to reopen warming shelter for winter

Fort Simpson will this week discuss how to spend money allocated to address homelessness in the community. Funding to run the village's warming shelter has been renewed for the coming winter.

The warming shelter, which opened quickly last year in extreme cold weather, was run by volunteers for weeks before any funding was officially received. From this month until March 2022, the shelter will receive $200,000 from the territorial government.

However, who will run the shelter and what its operations will look like are to be determined.

The village’s mayor, Sean Whelly, says a committee meeting on Monday will examine options to be brought to council later that night.

He hopes to restart a group of local people to form an advisory committee on the issue of homelessness. Last year, Whelly said, that group involved members of council, the Líídlįį Kúę First Nation, the Fort Simpson Métis, and various territorial departments.

The warming shelter operated from the former Unity Store last winter. Two to seven people used the space each night.

The centre was originally conceived as a place for people to warm up, but it soon became apparent that some users, either stranded in Fort Simpson without transportation or kicked out of their homes for the night, needed overnight stays.

Eventually, the shelter received funding from the N.W.T. Housing Corporation and dedicated staff.

By email, a housing corporation spokesperson told Cabin Radio the village will receive financial support and support from corporation staff this winter.

A further $40,000 from a shelter enhancement fund has covered "repairs related to damage from this summer’s floods,” the spokesperson said, adding the corporation "recognizes the good work the shelter in Fort Simpson is doing for the community and is committed to working in partnership with the Village of Fort Simpson and the shelter going forward."

The village requested $180,000 from the territorial government last season to run the shelter for five months.

In that proposal, the biggest listed expense was $80,400 for four staff members, followed by $16,200 for administration, $15,000 each for renovations and insurance, $12,000 for payroll, and $10,000 each for utilities, rent, and furniture.

At a village council meeting last week, resident Les Wright raised concerns about funding and procurement transparency for the project last winter.

Wright told councillors he had heard different numbers about the cost of renting the space and asked for a wider range of solutions, and possible contractors, to be considered this winter.

Whelly told Cabin Radio the village took on administration of funding behind the shelter last year as no other groups were able to do so, but other interested groups this year should reach out.

Whelly promised to make an expenditure report for the funding available at Monday's council meeting.

Wright also queried how the $40,000 in flood recovery funding was spent.

He wants small homes built for those experiencing homelessness in the village, though that money was earmarked for repairs to the shelter space following May's flooding.

Councillor and Unity Store operator Muaz Hassan said the shelter space's heating system, hot water tanks, and flooring insulation all needed repair work.

Hassan, who helped to run the shelter from his building in its first season, says he will take part again this year but keep his role at the shelter distinct from his role on council.

“I’ve never been part of any decision which has anything to do with my business involved in that, other than the contract between my company and the village administrator to the program,” he said.

“The issue for me is service. It’s a need, it’s not about money. I need the building, but I feel like there is more need for it to be a shelter to accommodate these people than just keeping it as a storage room.”

To aid transparency, Hassan wants the village to request proposals to operate the shelter this winter, potentially in another space.

“If they find any other place that they could accommodate these people, I’m really more than willing to help support them,” he said.

That process, he says, may take some time. He said he is prepared to operate the shelter out of pocket if no solution is found before temperatures get colder.

Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio

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