North

Fort Simpson forges ahead with new warming shelter

The shelter is set be located in the former Unity building, and is nearly ready to open. 

Shelter set to be located in former Unity building and is nearly ready to open 

Fort Simpson, N.W.T., on January 28, 2017. A group of governments and organizations in Fort Simpson hope a warming shelter will reduce the risk of people being exposed to harsh temperatures as the weather drops.  (Walter Strong/CBC)

Fort Simpson, N.W.T., is pushing ahead with plans for a new warming shelter, and has even picked out a location.

A group of governments and organizations in Fort Simpson met to discuss a warming centre in the community in early November. Łı́ı́dlı̨ Kų́e First Nation, the Village of Fort Simpson and the NWT Housing Corporation, among others, have since trekked ahead to make this a reality.

They hope a shelter will reduce the risk of harm that could come from people being exposed to harsh temperatures as the weather drops. 

The shelter is set be located in the former Unity building, and is nearly ready to open. 

The pandemic has put greater strain on Fort Simpson's housing insecurity, said Mayor Sean Whelly. 

He said many people couch surf, or stay with relatives, because affordable housing is limited in the community. As people are asked to shelter in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, those that don't have a home are put in a vulnerable position. 

Fort Simpson mayor, Sean Whelly, says the warming shelter will help the town understand the scope of homelessness in the community. (CBC)

There has always been demand for a warming shelter in Fort Simpson, Whelly said, but funding options were limited until now. 

Since the pandemic thrust housing insecurity into the spotlight, the federal government has put more money into homelessness prevention.

Whelly said it's unclear right now whether there's demand in the community for an overnight shelter, but said the warming shelter "will really alert us to the scope of the problem."

Shelter needs more money

The project got $10,000 from the NWT Housing Corporation, but at the moment, there isn't enough money to pay the wages of personnel as well as the costs of running the building. 

"I think we as a community really need to get this properly funded ... so we can get the right staff and guarantee it runs for the winter," said Whelly. 

Whelly also worries about finding people to staff the shelter, which demands experience in working with people who have underlying mental health or addictions issues.

Unity owner pushing ahead

Muaz Hassan is renovating the former Unity building to use as a warming shelter. (Submitted by Muaz Hussan)

Muaz Hassan, owner of Fort Simpson's Unity store, is pushing ahead in spite of funding challenges.

He recently opened a new location for his business and offered up the previous Unity building as a possible site for the new warming shelter.

Hassan has already started making the renovations necessary for the building to meet safety standards to function as a shelter. 

He said he'll be paying out of pocket until more funding comes through. 

Before Hassan moved to Fort Simpson, he worked with displaced people in war-torn countries including Sudan, Rwanda and Bosnia with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

Wherever Hassan goes, he said, he's concerned with ensuring people have access to fundamentals for survival: shelter, water, food and education. 

"It's always a part of me to be thinking of these issues."

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