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Inuvik warming centre director worried for clients after it moves back to small building

At the end of April, the Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre temporarily moved from its original location on Berger Street to the Aurora College student residence to brace for the pandemic. Residents were supposed to stay there until the end of August.

Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre back to Berger Street after months at Aurora College

Paul Voudrach, executive director of the Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre, says the centre was told to move out early from its temporary home at the Aurora College residence. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

The warming centre in Inuvik, N.W.T., is back in its old location and its executive director says it's almost impossible to follow public health guidelines in that building.

"It's sad we have to move back to the old location because here there's not much room anymore," said Paul Voudrach, executive director of the warming centre.

"We should be able to have [physical] distance from each other, but that doesn't happen here because it's overcrowded."

At the end of April, the Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre temporarily moved from its original location on Berger Street to the Aurora College student residence when the pandemic hit. Residents were supposed to stay there until the end of August. 

However, the warming centre was informed by the college that it needed to leave about a month earlier than scheduled.

"We were told in June that we had to move out by the end of July ... We had no other place to go to," said Voudrach.

The main concern is that its original building — which has a small kitchen, a living room, and two rooms for sleeping — is not big enough to physically distance whereas the student residence had about 30 rooms.

The warming centre allows users to be intoxicated, which is against the rules at the Inuvik Homeless Shelter. 

Because of this, when the residents were at the student residence, a program was set up to allow them to have four glasses of alcohol per day and cigarettes were also bought for them. The idea was to keep residents self-isolating and physically distancing instead of wandering downtown.

Now, back in the old building and with COVID-19 rules easing, the centre has gone back to its old operations and aren't providing alcohol anymore. Residents are also back to sleeping on closely spaced mats.

Facilities providing social services are exempt from the territory's gathering provisions, as long the facility only brings in necessary staff.

Voudrach said they are trying to look for a new building that can help maintain physical distancing, but he said that's difficult in town.

The Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre on Berger Street is overcrowded, says Voudrach. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"We are still in search of a safe facility for the residents to live in," said Voudrach. "It's unfortunate that there's not enough facilities in this community to house that many people all at one time."

Voudrach said the centre serves about 20 residents, although there tends to be fewer people spending the night during the summer versus winter.

Aurora College says it needs to back-to-school prep

Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for Aurora College, said in an email that the college opened up a number of its facilities as temporary options to support the territorial government's response to COVID-19.

However, in preparation of students starting school back in September, the college needed to prepare the residence for them.

Although the fall semester will be offered online, some students will still need the residence, which includes internet to complete their studies.

Voudrach says he was told by local housing representatives that it would take about three years to get new units built for shelter use.

If residents have ideas of where the warming centre could relocate, Voudrach said he's all ears.

"If anybody has any facility where they can help with that, it would be so wanted."

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