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Temporary emergency men's shelter fills 'a dire need' in Hay River

Volunteers like Tom Makepeace and MLA Rocky Simpson are sheltering up to 12 men in a trailer north of Hay River's downtown. They are hoping the men can move to permanent housing in the new year.

A non-profit needs to step forward to open permanent shelter, says housing corp.

The newest temporary men's emergency shelter in Hay River, N.W.T., is being run out of a trailer. Volunteer Tom Makepeace gives one homeless man a pair of gloves in this photo. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

The newest temporary men's emergency shelter in Hay River, N.W.T., is being run out of a trailer off the town's main highway. 

The trailer, about a 10-minute drive from the downtown strip, is equipped with all the basics: heat, running water, mattresses and blankets. Volunteers also take turns dropping by the centre, armed with popcorn and squares for the men.

The shelter which houses up to 12 men is entirely funded by volunteers like Tom Makepeace, 70, who offers the town's homeless men a ride in his truck to the shelter if they need it. 

'Who's going to look after them?' Makepeace said. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

"Who's going to look after them?" Makepeace told CBC. "It's not hard to come up with reasons to get involved." 

Emergency shelter 'a dire need'

The trailer is one of Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson's many properties in town. 

Simpson declined an interview for this story, but publicly tried to convince Paulie Chinna, the territory's new housing minister, to fund a permanent shelter in Hay River earlier this month. 

Makepeace, 70, opens up the temporary shelter which is about a 10-minute drive from the downtown strip. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

"We are in dire need of an emergency shelter," Simpson told the legislature. "With these temperatures, we're going to end up having somebody freeze." 

Makepeace said there are at least a dozen men with an immediate need for housing but said there are many more that jump from couch to couch. 

The town's homeless population grew after the Hay River highrise fire in April, Makepeace said. 

Non-profit needed to open permanent shelter

For months, Makepeace and other volunteers in town have been asking the NWT Housing Corporation for support. 

In a letter obtained by CBC, the NWT Housing Corporation said a community organization needs to come forward in Hay River and prove it could support shelter operations in town before they could consider funding the project. Only then could money be put into a potential project.

Volunteers bought new appliances including dish towels, a kettle and some work gloves for the men sleeping in the shelter. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Five two-bedroom units will be built in Hay River by the housing corporation in the new year to address the town's housing concerns. 

The letter also said the NWT Housing Corporation has not identified any additional money to expand shelter services in the territory. 

Makepeace said many of Hay River's buildings stand empty, including homes and old hotels. He would like to see one of these properties converted into permanent housing for the town's men, so no more of them have to risk their lives on the street in –40 C temperatures. 

"It would be easier for them if they had a place to stay on a regular basis so they can sort their life out," Makepeace said. 

Makepeace said he and volunteers from the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre, a drop-in space in Hay River's downtown, are hoping to create a non-profit organization in the new year to meet the housing corporation's criteria.

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