News
Angela Gzowski
Mark Rendell

Housing First, Finally

After much delay, a project hoping to house 20 homeless Yellowknifers within three years gets off the ground

With the signing of an $834,000 contract the week before last, Yellowknife’s much-anticipated and much-delayed Housing First project is finally underway.

The Yellowknife Women’s Society — the sole organization to bid on the City-facilitated, federally funded initiative — has begun hiring staff and securing accommodation, with the plan of housing the first four people by October. By the end of the three-year contract, they hope to have at least 20 people housed.

“We intend to complete the interviewing and hiring process by Labour day weekend, and to engage in intensive training and planning in September,” Bree Denning, executive director of YWS, told EDGE via email, adding that the organization has “been meeting with Northview Properties REIT to identify potential spaces for our first group of program participants.”

Housing First revolves around the idea that hard-to-house people have more success dealing with addictions and making positive choices when they have a roof over their heads. In the Yellowknife model, people will be able to refer themselves to the Housing First team, or be referred by shelter staff around town. Access to the program, says Denning, is “based on a variety of factors” — determined by a “Vulnerability Assessment Tool” — with “priority given to those individuals most at risk of harm.”

Once in the program, people will have access staff to connect them with different social services. Unfortunately, however, the program won’t directly organize in-house visits by medical professionals, as is considered a best practice.

“Some larger jurisdictions operate using an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) model, which includes full-time clinicians that do home visits. We do not have the funding, or the client base, to apply this type of model at this time,” says Denning. Although she adds that their model can still be effective: “we can provide for client needs by making connections with service providers and assisting clients to access appointments in the community.”

A long time coming

Back in 2014, the City secured more than $1 million in federal funding, under the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS), to put towards initiatives like Housing First. Since then, things have progressed at a snail’s pace, with the Community Advisory Board on Homelessness — the City-led committee in charge of doling out the HPS funding — investing in dubious endeavours like last year’s point-in-time count, and having to divert funding away from Housing First because it wasn't spent on time. This apparent foot-dragging led to criticism from citizens’ groups like the Hopeful Partnership, and by January, even the chair of the advisory board, Coun. Linda Bussey, was feeling like the “group was losing steam, and it seemed like we weren’t getting anywhere.”

Things began looking up by February of this year. And despite public disagreement between Bussey and GWNT Minister Responsible for Housing Caroline Cochrane (herself the former executive director of the YWS) over how to tackle homelessness, the City put out the request for proposal in April. In June, the City received a healthy top-up of federal funding for homelessness — around $300,000 more a year for the next two years — much of which is likely to go the Housing First project.

With the contract now signed, control of the project is mostly in the hands of the the YWS. The City will still have an oversight role, providing support, arranging training and helping with contracts.

More support is expected to come in the form of funding from the GNWT. As City communications officer Stephanie Vandeputte explains: “We are waiting to add the additional funds committed from [the NWT Housing Corporation]… The GNWT have not flowed these funds to the City yet.”