Hay River’s shelter for the homeless has been providing a valuable service to the community since opening more than two months ago.
The Moving Forward Emergency Shelter for Men and Women opened its doors on Sept. 1.
And it has been helping many people since then.
One homeless man in his 50s welcomes the place to stay overnight and the help it offers.
“It’s keeping me sober for one thing,” he said. “It’s keeping a roof over my head while I get back on my feet.”
The man said the meals are good, and the shelter is a nice, quiet place.
It is being operated by the Hay River Committee for Persons with Disabilities with funding from the NWT Housing Corporation, along with donations from individuals and organizations in Hay River.
As of late last week, the shelter’s 10 available beds are full each night, according to Pravina Bartlett, executive director of the Hay River Committee for Persons with Disabilities.
“We’re full right now based on the last while,” she said, noting the shelter went to full capacity as it began getting colder.
The shelter has 10 bunk beds, but because of Covid-19 precautions, only the lower bunks are being used.
“Our goal is to have approval post-Covid to increase the access to 20 in the future,” said Bartlett.
She noted that, once word of the shelter spread in the community, it was at full capacity quite quickly with people ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-70s.
Bartlett added there are many people in the community who need the help.
“We estimate probably 30-plus actually, and this is based on what the individuals accessing the service are telling us,” she said.
Some of those not at the shelter may be staying with friends, in vehicles or in unoccupied houses they are able to access.
The night-time shelter, which is open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week, operates on a first-come, first served basis. In other words, it basically starts anew each evening.
“If somebody needs the bed, we provide that to them,” said Bartlett.
She stressed the shelter isn’t a permanent housing facility, and it isn’t a sobering centre.
“It is an emergency shelter,” she said. “It is meant to be a short-term shelter period to help the individuals here that are accessing the shelter with whatever other things that they need, where we can provide referrals to them whether it’s health related or counselling.”
Beginning late last year, a group of concerned citizens set up a temporary shelter in a trailer in Old Town. And last winter, after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the NWT Housing Corporation temporarily secured 18 rooms at North Country Inn for the homeless in Hay River.
Those services have been replaced by the new shelter.
Bartlett noted it has eight beds for males and two for females in separate rooms.
The facility also has clothing bins, two washrooms and laundry facilities.
Bartlett explained the shelter is being operated as a program of the Hay River Committee for Persons with Disabilities, which has its offices, kitchen and programming space in the same building behind Home Hardware.
The new shelter offers more than just a place to sleep.
“They have a bed, they get a warm meal, they get any clothing that they need,” said Bartlett. “We also try to provide winter coats, boots and everything to help prepare them for the day.”
One of the goals is to help the homeless people improve their lives through such things as pursuing treatment and offering assistance to find employment and learn life skills, which are programs offered by the Hay River Committee for Persons with Disabilities.
“We do have a couple of individuals that just started working and they’re looking at trying to save up enough money, and we can help with budgeting,” said Bartlett.
Lillian Crook, president of the Hay River Committee for Persons with Disabilities, said the shelter aims to help homeless people improve their lives.
“That’s why we’re called Moving Forward,” she said. “We don’t want them to just come in to sleep, eat and then go back out again. We’re working with them, and we’ve had success. We’ve had four that have gone out already for treatment.”
Crook said the committee has received positive feedback about the shelter from the people staying there.
“They’re treated with respect,” she said.
The shelter is funded by the NWT Housing Corporation until March 31, 2021.
“This project is going until the end of this fiscal year,” said Bartlett. “This project isn’t a budgeted project. It’s not something that they had planned in their budget for us to co-ordinate. They had to find internal funding to be able to partner with us to help us get this established.”
Further funding depends on the performance of the shelter, and the need.
“I hope we can keep it going,” said Bartlett.
Currently, the shelter has three employees, and it is supervised throughout the night.
Plus, several employees of the Hay River Committee for Persons with Disabilities, including Bartlett, volunteer much of their time at the shelter.
She noted that the committee had tried several times to start a homeless shelter over the past decade because many of its clients have struggles finding housing.