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NNSL Photo

Major Karen Hoeft, Salvation Army Northern Territories Director of Community Development, visited Inuvik to share her experiences establishing a successful community network and infrastructure in Yellowknife to deal with its homelessness problem. - Jason Unrau/NNSL photo

Without shelter

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Mar 05/04) - During an average week at Turning Point, Inuvik's emergency shelter for the homeless that maintains 11 beds for males and three for females, there are no vacancies.

"An expanded shelter for the homeless is absolutely needed in Inuvik," said Robert Orr, Turning Point's alcohol and drug counsellor.

Each day Orr provides support for those, as the shelter's name implies, who are trying to turn their lives around.

However, as the shelter does not accept people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Orr says it cannot adequately address the full scope of Inuvik's homelessness problem.

"It's a place where people come when they are ready to get healthy," he said. "We just aren't equipped to deal with those who aren't."

Formerly, Turning Point was a drop-in facility. But due to the current demand, Orr says Turning Point only accepts referrals from Education Culture and Employment because the shelter doesn't have enough space.

Once accepted into the shelter, Orr says he and other staff do "anything they possibly can" to help those under its roof find work and more permanent lodgings.

Inuvik's Interagency Committee has spearheaded the movement to establish a shelter to better meet the needs of the town's homeless population.

Alana Mero, chair of the committee, says the Turning Point is doing a great job.

"Unfortunately, as a community, we've put them in a stop-gap measure position," she said.

"What we need to do now is build on that, whether it's a program or facility, so those who need the help can do it in the context of their community."

Last November, the committee released the report Homelessness in Inuvik. A portion of it identified what Mero calls the "overlap," whereby substance abuse, mental health issues, those going through the criminal justice system and family violence contribute to the overall homeless numbers in town.

While the report provides no specific numbers, it does highlight Inuvik's shortfall in meeting an increasing demand for housing.

Demand for units

A 2002 Housing Demand Study for the NWT Chamber of Commerce estimated a demand for approximately 30 units per year until 2011.

"Historically, the rate of building in Inuvik between 1998-2001 was only about 10 dwellings per year," the report goes on to say.

The number of single family unit dwellings built last year exceeded the projected demand for 30, said an official from the Town of Inuvik.

This year, work has already begun on 45 additional units, the official said.

Nevertheless, encouraging more dwelling development is not going to tackle the homeless problem alone, said Mero.

Dealing with the root of the problem is what has to be done, said Mero.

"Simply finding someone a place to sleep without any treatment or counselling is not really addressing the problem," said Mero.

During the GNWT election in November, Twin Lakes MLA incumbent Roger Allen, former minister responsible for the homeless, told those who attended an all-candidates debate at Ingamo Hall that he was willing to let market forces dictate the cost of renting and buying lodgings in Inuvik.

That means the more places there are available for sale or rent, the more affordable lodgings are going to be.

However, Mero said, making housing more available is not going to tackle this multi-layered issue.

Allen and Michael Miltenberger, the current minister responsible for the homeless, were unavailable for comment prior to press time.

Though Mero and the Interagency Committee have achieved much in highlighting homelessness in Inuvik, it still has a long way to go.

Currently, Mero says the Homelessness Committee is still very much in the process of reaching its goal. "A lot of work was done identifying the issue and now the committee's putting together a proposal to get funding to hire a co-ordinator," said Mero.

In the meantime, drawing on expertise from centres already operating successful programs is part of the Interagency Committee's directive.

In February, the committee hosted Salvation Army Major Karen Hoeft, director of the charity organization's community development for Yellowknife.

Since becoming the chair of Yellowknife's Homeless Coalition in February 2001, Hoeft has managed to bring together social service providers and organizations in the capital that deal with different aspects of homelessness, to build what she calls "consensus in addressing the issue."

Right direction

Hoeft says the fact that Inuvik's Interagency Committee already does this is a step in the right direction in tackling its own problem.

"Homelessness has actually become worse in Yellowknife from the time I've become involved," said Hoeft, who attributes this to the economic boom the territory is experiencing. "And a boom is coming for Inuvik with the pipeline so it is good this issue is at the table for discussion."