by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services
INUVIK (Feb 14/97) - Nearly 50 residents vented their anger over plans to close Delta House at Kelvin Ng, minister of health and social services, last Friday night.
Ng attended the meeting at the request of Inuvik MLA Roland, who wanted the minister to hear local concerns about the planned closure of the drug and alcohol treatment centre.
Ng got an earful. For three-and-a-half hours residents pelted the minister with condemnations and accusations, in tones ranging from sadness to rage.
Thirteen jobs and $640,000 will be lost from Inuvik's economy, when Delta House closes next month. But many at the meeting also argued the loss of the 12-bed facility would strike a blow against the community's social fabric, as it battles the ill effects of alcohol abuse.
"How are you going to feel in 1999, when you've balanced the budget but still have the highest suicide rate, the highest alcoholism rate and the highest family violence rate in the country?" asked Gary Beattie.
"Are you still going to say we've balanced the budget?"
Ng said he made the decision to close Delta House because there are too many treatment centres in the Western NWT for the demand. Centres in Hay River, Yellowknife and Inuvik all suffer from low occupancy rates.
The department hopes to reduce the number of treatment centres to just one in each of the western and eastern territories by 1999. Delta House "stuck out like a sore thumb" as the first centre to close, said Ng. "It was the oldest facility, the smallest and its location was not exactly conducive" to programming needs."
Ng also said Delta House was the most expensive facility, per bed, to operate, and "the fact is, the majority of people from the region choose not to use Delta House."
Several in the audience questioned how Delta House could be the most expensive facility, when the cost of maintaining the larger Yellowknife and Hay River centres is factored in, along with the cost of flying clients from the region there. Ng offered no figures in his defence.
Statistics provided by Delta House at the meeting, showed 224 clients from the region underwent treatment so far in 1996-97, but only 60 of those went to Delta House. Some in the audience argued it was Ng's department that was sending clients to other facilities, essentially "knee-capping" the operations. "Delta House would have been filled to overflowing" if clients had been sent to Delta House, "so you couldn't use occupancy stats against us," said Dale Hansen. "You would have had to find something else."
Ng made it clear early on that his decision on Delta House was firm. "I'm not prepared to change my mind on this," said Ng. "I have to look at the needs of the territories, not just Inuvik."
The remark angered some in the audience, who questioned why the minister bothered attending the meeting if he had already made up his mind on the matter.
"This government talks about community empowerment, but I see all the power being taken out of this community and taken elsewhere," said Chris Garvin.
"You preach community wellness and community empowerment, then something so important to the community as this is literally ripped away," added Eddie Kolausok.
"You say this is an economic thing, but our best assets are healthy people. When you have healthy people, then we can have an economy." Floyd Roland also came under fire from the audience. "The budget is not approved yet," said James Firth. "Floyd, I expect you to vote against it because of this." The comment, directed at Inuvik's MLA, drew loud cheers.
Roland did not say outright whether he would vote against the budget. He would only say "I know you guys put me here.... I've heard you quite loud and clear tonight."
Roland said Delta House could keep going if groups in the region pooled their resources to fund it. "I'm hoping that at the end of tonight, leaders will start pulling their resources together."
Mayor George Roach said he would ask council to give the centre four months of free rent.
While Ng said Delta House funding will end next month, he closed the meeting by agreeing to assist the community in seeking alternative funding and programming to keep the centre going.
He also said the equipment in the building would not be removed by the department until June 30, to give the community time to plan new arrangements.