The homeless shelter in Inuvik, N.W.T., cannot properly provide for people with mental illnesses.

Mary Ann Ross represents Inuvik’s Interagency Committee, which is responsible for the homeless shelter.

At a meeting of the territory’s anti-poverty steering committee Monday night, she said the shelter is already struggling with its workload. She said it’s up to other governments to take charge.

"They already have funding for our people, and they should be able to provide that service," she said.

She said the shelter is overburdened with people who have alcohol and drug addictions, as well as psychiatric problems.

She called it an impossible burden for a facility with a small budget.

"We are a shelter, providing just beds and food and a safe place, currently. We don't have enough staff to do that," she said.

Ross urged territorial and aboriginal governments to do more, especially when it comes to rehabilitation and mental illness.

Healing camps are held a few times a year by the Gwich’in and the Inuvialuit.

Loretta Rogers, who works at the shelter, said they need more staff and training. She added that many of their clients rotate between the shelter and the hospital.

'We are a shelter, providing just beds and food and a safe place, currently.'—Mary Ann Ross, Inuvik Interagency Committee

"There’s lots to do with mental health and the addictions of alcoholism that we deal with on a daily basis. A lot of people that come in do have mental issues. They have to take daily pills and stuff like that. And we do need proper staffing in there that can help with the issues that we go through on a daily basis," said Rogers.

Rogers said the shelter is looking for funding to keep it open 24 hours a day. Currently, it is closed between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., forcing its clients back out on the street.

Homeless youth falling through the cracks

Youth poverty was on the agenda during the meeting in Inuvik.

Ross said youth ages 16 to 19 are at the most at risk because they are too old for foster care, but too young for homeless shelters.

In Yellowknife, the Side Door program has places for youth to sleep, but there is no such facility for them in Inuvik.

"They're couch surfing, they're living with families, they're just moving around. They are the most vulnerable people out there," said Ross.

Inuvik Food Bank volunteer Margaret Miller said some of their clients are students. She said many students put all their money towards tuition and don’t have enough for living expenses.

"In the Fall, we get quite a few clients from the college. They are single students from the communities and they don’t get too much money from EI," said Miller.

Alana Mero, councillor and community volunteer, said there are many service providers, but sometimes, they don't see the hole that youth fall into.

She said integrating services is crucial to improving the situation in the North.

Comments made during the meeting will be used in a report by the territory's anti-poverty steering committee.