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Mark Rendell

Homeless Youth To Get Housed First

SideDoor Ministries launches Housing First for teens and young adults while City waits on plans for adult homeless

As the City mulls over a proposal to provide Housing First to adults, youth-focused SideDoor Ministries, which runs both the Side Door and Hope’s Haven, have announced they’ll be starting their own Housing First program.

“Youth have identified what they need in order to end their homelessness, so we want to respond to that,” says the organization’s executive director Iris Hamlyn.

The new program will place youth who have gone through Hope’s Haven transitional housing — currently 13 people live there — into apartments around the city.

“At Hope’s Haven, we have youth 15 to 24 — such a range in age — so the needs are different… We’re going to focus on youth transitioning into their own house and providing services for their own place,” says Hamlyn. “If you had problematic lifestyles or home environments, living with 13 people is really difficult, and based on what the youth have said to us, [they want] their own place and [for us to] provide them support so they can stay in their own place.”

Hamlyn says her organization is currently in discussion with both private sector landlords as well as the GNWT about acquiring housing.

“I did meet with the minister of homelessness [Caroline Cochrane] and indicated that we would be requesting some of the Yellowknife [public] housing stock, and there’s a willingness to do that,” says Hamlyn. “We just need to formalize those kind of agreements.”

The intention is to move the first youth into their own apartment by next month. How many apartments SideDoor will be seeking in total will depend on demand, as well as the types of living situations requested — single apartments, shared apartments or even shared houses.

Growing the ministry

The move towards housing youth in apartments is part of a larger expansion for SideDoor. After not renewing the lease for the Yellowknife Family Centre, which occupied the second floor of their building on 50th Street, the organization will be expanding upstairs next month, offering a suite of support and life skills programs for youth out of the expanded space. For the last year, this programming — which includes things like employment preparation, cooking classes and counselling — was run out of the Hope’s Haven building and directed towards youth resident in the building. Moving the programming over to their 50th St. building will ensure it is accessible to youth not in the transitional housing program.

SideDoor has already hired three new staff members to run programming, and is planning to hire a fourth person who will specialize in counselling, mental health and addictions.   

“That position will be providing one-on-one supports to youth, as well as referrals,” says Hamlyn.  “We realize that we don’t have a treatment facility and we don’t plan on opening one, but that person would be linking people to Tree of Peace for instance, or the withdrawal management program at the Salvation Army.”

This mental health “navigator,” and other navigators focusing on things like housing or employment, will make regular visits to youth who have been housed in apartments around town, while also running the programming from the expanded centre.

The organization is paying for the expansion with money from an underutilized pot of federal funding managed by the GNWT’s department of Education, Culture and Employment.  

“I put a proposal in, and it didn’t meet their criteria, so they changed their criteria, which was great,” says Hamlyn. “This was five-year funding, and people weren’t accessing it, so I said, ‘Hey, you have extra money that’s not being used, what can we do with it?’

Hamlyn didn’t say exactly how much the two-year funding from the feds/ECE was, but of the $250,000 needed for the expansion, they now have about 80 percent covered. “I also have some proposals still pending,” she adds.

As for the City’s Housing First plan for adults, the proposal submitted last week by the Yellowknife Women’s Society is still being reviewed by City administration, says Coun. Linda Bussey. She expects a decision will be made next week. Likewise no plans have been finalized for how to allocate the additional $600,000 in federal funding over two years that was announced last week. The City Advisory Board on Homelessness will be meeting in mid-July to discuss the matter and a decision needs to be made before August 22.