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Give me shelter

Erika Sherk
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 29/06) - "I had no place to go. I just came out of an operation and had no place to go so they let me stay."

Those are the words of a woman presently staying at the Centre for Northern Families, who asked that her named not be printed.

Five thousand, six hundred and seventy-one. That was the number of nights beds were slept in at the shelter last year.

When asked what she would do without the centre, the woman said, "I wouldn't have a clue. Be out on the streets, I guess."

The shelter is almost always filled to capacity, said Kerry King, who helps women deal with everything from any legal issues to those facing eviction or having their children taken away by social workers.

"People can be afraid of people with authority," said King.

"Some don't know their rights."

"It can be so sad. These people who need so much help and they don't know where to go to get it."

What is even sadder, said Arlene Hache, executive director of the centre, is that soon these services may no longer be available.

"We are on the brink of collapse," she said. "We are in a position where we can't make December's payroll."

Fifteen years of funding shortfalls have caught up to them, she said. Recent discoveries of fire code violations "put the nail in the coffin," she said.

The centre has been meeting with its main financier, the territorial Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE), to try to find a way to survive, said Hache.

The annual budget for the centre is about $800,000. The department supplies around $300,000. The rest comes from various other federal and territorial government departments.

When asked if the centre will make it, 'I hope so,'" she said, "but I don't know."

Hache knows what it is like to need help, she said.

She came to Yellowknife in 1972, "running away from incest and family violence and addictions," she said. "I was 19 and just a little street urchin."

She was homeless off and on for five years and only survived, she said, because a few good people believed in her.

"That's what we do for these women," she said, "we are there for them."

It's been a rough ride for the centre at times, said Hache, but she said that she perceives things differently than the rest of the community.

"I consider it a success when a woman who has been through so much trauma and devastation says she wants to live another day," she said. "To me, that is a miracle."

The centre began in 1990, three months after the Yellowknife Women's Society was created. It is governed by a board of directors.

However well-utilized the facility, it is only one part of what the centre does.

The list of services it offers to women in Yellowknife is substantial. Since its creation, it has expanded to include a drop-in medical clinic, open one day each week, treating on average 35 people per day.

There are programs for children of every age, starting from infancy with the Healthy Baby Club, graduating to the Healthy Toddler Club, and then on to after-school programs, and spring break and summer camps.

However, Hache said that they do all sorts of work outside the programs.

"We don't define ourselves by programs," she said. "When someone walks through the door our job is to say 'What do you need?' and provide support for them."

This approach has sometimes stretched their finances thin. However, Hache said the centre has always prided itself on putting families first, and dealing with the consequences as they come.

- This is Part VI of a seven-part series on women's and family organizations in the city. The last instalment comes this Friday when Yellowknifer looks at preparations for this year's vigil in remembrance of the 14 women killed in the 1989 Montreal Massacre.