After board of Inuvik's warming centre nearly dissolves, clients and remaining members hopeful

The Inuvik Emergency Centre will continue to run, but with only two of its seven- member board.

A group of residents stepped up to form a working group that will operate the centre in the interim

A group of residents and staff of the Inuvik warming centre gathered outside the shelter in September. With the future of the centre unknown, there's mounting anxiety over what will happen next. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

The Inuvik Emergency Centre will continue to run, but with only two of its seven-member board.

The development comes after a public meeting Wednesday night, where the board informed residents, employees and clients that it planned to dissolve after combating a number of issues since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The board does not make this decision lightly, however it is confident that with so many concerned members of the community, it could come together to make a new society," said Ruth Wright, the chair of the Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre Society at the beginning of the meeting. 

The two hour meeting was at times contentious with both board members, employees and residents passionately bringing up their viewpoints of what went wrong and how to correct it.

The board had originally wanted to meet with members of the public, clients of the centre and employees separately, which didn't sit well with attendees since most wanted to hear about the issues together following a rocky few months.

Mounting problems

At the end of April, the centre temporarily moved from its original location on Berger Street to the Aurora College student residence.

The move was so residents could properly physically distance themselves. But then it was told it had to move back to its former location by August.

It also hasn't had an executive director in the past couple of months since Mary Cockney left the position in April and her replacement, Paul Voudrach, parted ways with the organization mid-August.

Mary Cockney left the position of executive director of the warming shelter in April. She's concerned about its future. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Last week, a group of residents and warming shelter clients showed up at a meeting for board members only

At the time, the group said they were concerned that the shelter was going to be closing even though the board assured them it would stay open for the time being.

However, at the Wednesday public meeting, it was revealed that the shelter had actually been closed since Friday.

Wright cited issues with the building not being fit to physically distance, along with issues among the board and staff that they did not feel could be resolved.

She said that the board had made arrangements with the Inuvik homeless shelter to be a place where clients could reside.

However, many were concerned that plan could be problematic, as the warming centre allows clients who are intoxicated and the homeless shelter typically does not.

Calls for a new board

At the meeting, Melissa Rogers, who was a previous chair for the society, called for the creation of a new board instead of dissolving it.

"I don't think dissolving the whole society is a good idea. I was there from the beginning and it was a lot of work to get the society up and going to what it was today," Rogers said at the meeting.

By the end, it was decided that five out of seven current board members would step down, with Maxine Larocque and Lorreta Rogers the sole members left.

They then joined a working group that consisted of Eliza Firth, Mary Cockney, Shirley Kasoon and Melissa Rogers.

"The past previous board worked so diligently and so hard to do what's best for the residents but my heart just broke to see the place falling apart and residents [not] having anywhere to go," Rogers said.

"That was part of the reason I was here tonight. Thinking about this, I had to come back. One way or another."

Rogers had previously been chair for the society for four years before she stepped down last year in April.

Going forward, the working group's first priority is to hire a new executive director, and will plan an emergency meeting where a new board of directors can be elected.

"I'm not in this for myself. I'm in this for [the clients]," Rogers said. "Like one board member mentioned, I'm going to go home tonight knowing that I have a place to sleep."

The Inuvik Emergency Centre will continue to run, but with only two of its seven member-board. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Relief for clients

For Adam Kaglik, he is now rest assured he has somewhere to go after staying at a friend's place while the shelter was temporarily closed.

The warming centre client of four years said without it this winter, he was concerned.

"Where was I going to lay my head? Where am I going to sleep?" he asked.

"I feel relieved. We're going forward. We're not working against each other, we are working with one another."