Homeless people in Yellowknife seek shelter from fire smoke

The only day shelter for homeless people in Yellowknife was shut down in May, leaving some people with nowhere to go to get out of the smoke from the heavy fire season.
Alice Joyce Betsidia, right, is homeless in Yellowknife. 'Why did they have to shut down that day shelter when we need a safe place to be too?' she asks. (CBC)

Some homeless people in Yellowknife say they need a day shelter now more than ever because smoke from nearby forest fires is affecting their health.

Air quality in Yellowknife has been particularly bad this summer and without a safe place to go indoors it is hard to escape despite warnings from health officials to stay inside.

For some people in Yellowknife, like Alice Joyce Betsidia, who has no home, that's not always an option. 

"I love my bush camp, but this smoke is difficult. To be honest, why did they have to shut down that day shelter when we need a safe place to be too," Betsidia said.

The only dedicated indoor space for homeless people to go during the day closed in May.

For the last four years until then, an average of 70 people went to Yellowknife's day shelter for  warmth, a meal, or a place to sleep. But the group that funded the shelter said it wants a place that provides more than a place to hang out.

The Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority said there should be programming as well as shelter.

People worried at the time about how they would protect themselves from the cold weather, but with all the smoke, summer has been a struggle too.

Julie lives on the streets of Yellowknife. 

"It's giving me headaches. I can't stand it anymore. I want it to go away," she said. 

Sophie Thrasher says finding a place to hide inside is challenging since most places only want paying customers and she doesn't have much money.

The Department of Health and Social Services is still working on finding a new building and a new organization to run a shelter.