If a non-profit runs an Inuvik shelter, how much should that cost?

When Housing N.W.T. took over Inuvik's warming shelter in 2021, many residents were relieved there was still a place to stay for those suffering from addictions, especially after several community members died of exposure.

But after just one winter, Housing N.W.T. put out a call for Indigenous governments and non-governmental organizations to take over. Now, another winter later, the search continues.

As part of a 2022 examination of the situation, Cabin Radio spoke with Housing N.W.T. president Eleanor Young about the issue.

“The goal was to just get in, try to stabilize things as quickly as we could, go back out of it, and continue to work with the shelter from there,” Young said at the time.

But as housing minister Paulie Chinna put it in the legislature last week: "There were some challenges within the Beaufort Delta."

Young and Chinna say Housing N.W.T. is currently in talks with potential providers and expects to be able to pass on responsibility for the shelter later this year.

Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland noted the change is already reflected in the department's draft 2023-24 budget: while Housing N.W.T. had previously allocated $2 million for running the shelter, the agency expects to pay whichever non-profit takes over $560,000.

"I'm wondering why, when the government operates it, it has a $2-million budget, but when a third-party NGO operates it, it has a budget of $560,000?" Cleveland asked.

"This was an emergency that had happened in Inuvik, and we just did not have any NGOs, nobody to step up and take over the responsibility," responded Chinna.

"Just so that I can get this straight," Cleveland continued, "no NGO could afford to operate a shelter at the budget they were given by the housing corporation, so everybody walked away from the table?

"So the housing corporation stepped in and said we are going to operate this shelter because we need a shelter in Inuvik, and the cost of doing that properly is $2 million.

"So now the government has come back and said: 'It is too expensive to operate a shelter in Inuvik, we're going to get a third party to do it, and we're going to give them a quarter of what we spent in order to operate the shelter properly.' Is that right?"

Chinna acknowledged Cleveland's frustration but said extra training and staffing had been required for Housing N.W.T. to begin doing something it doesn't normally do – operating a warming shelter. The minister also brought up the cost of recovery efforts after a November 2021 fire in the shelter.

"We had a couple of deaths that had happened during that time [before taking over] as well, too, with people freezing," said Chinna. "This was an emergency and Housing had to step in. And it didn't only have to do with just the funding that was there, but we would like to see this go back to the NGOs."

Cleveland said this was asking too much of a small community.

"I agree with the minister that it was an emergency," the MLA said. "Where I don't agree with the minister is that they are acknowledging that it is more expensive than they had originally anticipated to run a shelter, so they're stepping out."

Travelling to Inuvik last year as part of a committee studying housing, Cleveland said she had heard first-hand from residents that "it is not realistic to expect an NGO in small communities to find third-party funding in order to operate a shelter."

Despite the difficulty Cleveland brought up, Housing N.W.T. said it currently has two interested parties, and continues to hope it will be able to step away by the end of the year.

"We're very lucky to have them," said Chinna.

Caitrin Pilkington, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio