What Solomon Bucknor saw at a Cambridge Bay bank branch during a 6:15 a.m. stop to use the ATM alarmed him and made him realize the urgency to do more for the community’s teenagers in need.

“I saw these three kids. They were sleeping in there, very early in the morning,” he said, adding that he later found out that they were facing hardships at home. “They had to find somewhere warm… they’re struggling.

“That was the last straw. I said, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ And then I reached out to my various contacts and my bosses and started this thing moving,” Bucknor, the hamlet’s director of healthy living, said of an expanded youth drop-in shelter that opened earlier this month.

Located in a renovated municipally-owned building that previously served as staff accommodations, the drop-in shelter has six beds, but bunk beds have been ordered that will increase capacity to cater to 10 youth, 24 hours a day, seven days per week, including overnight stays.

“As long as the kids are not safe to return home, we kind of work with them to make sure they are safe where they are, they have enough food to eat, they have care,” Bucknor said, adding that there are numerous agencies that youth shelter staff liaise with including the Department of Family Services, the Department of Health and the Department of Justice, as well as the RCMP.

With contributions from the federal and territorial governments, there is funding for 12 staff at the youth drop-in facility, but not all of the positions are filled yet. There are currently enough employees, however, to allow for client overnight stays, according to Bucknor, who has been working in Cambridge Bay for close to 18 months and has served as a mental health specialist in numerous Nunavut communities for a dozen years. He added that training programs will be arranged for staff when a full complement exists.

Because the new facility just opened and due to Covid-19 public health restrictions, there are limited activities for young clients currently, but Bucknor envisions culturally-relevant programming being offered in the months and years ahead.

“In terms of making various cultural tools and going out on the land, that kind of thing,” he said. “We can’t have the youth just coming and staying there doing nothing. That’s not good for them, right? So we are working on making sure that they are engaged meaningfully and, of course, we’re encouraging them to go to school … depending on their age and what they want.”

There was a previous youth drop-in centre in Cambridge Bay that was funded through the Department of Family Services for a year, but it was in a different location that was too small, it could only be open for limited hours and the money ran out, Bucknor said.

He added that there’s potential for the expanded youth drop-in shelter to service the region or even communities outside the Kitikmeot if there’s a need, so long as the territorial government looks after travel costs.

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