Sea Can Do: Getting Housing First off the Ground Fast

In the next few weeks, there could be more than just parked vehicles in the desolate 50/50 lot — at least that’s if the Yellowknife Homeful Partnership gets its way. The group of Yellowknifers, who’ve made it their mission to support the Housing First approach to homelessness, want to place a sea can in the city-owned lot as a place to collect furnishings for the program’s apartments.

“There’s two reasons for it,” said group member Sheila Bassi-Kellett at a meeting  on Tuesday morning, several hours before the official signing of the Housing First agreement at City Hall. “It’s easy access for people who want to donate to Housing First, and it’s a visible place to let people know about the program.”  

“There’s an opportunity for the City to be seen to be proactive in supporting Housing First and moving it ahead, through the signing of the agreement and then having something highly visible.”

With the signing of the agreement between City Hall and the Yellowknife Women’s Society, things seem to be progressing quickly. A program coordinator has been hired, and two more employees are expected to be hired this week. The YWS has an agreement with Northview Apartment REIT, and hopes to have the first four clients moved into apartments by the beginning of October. What’s needed now is furnishing for the apartments.

”Really, it’s the basics like mattresses, sheets, towels, couches, tables, kitchen supplies, place settings, knives and forks. Basically anything that people would need to set up an apartment,” says Bree Denning, the YWS’s executive director.

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The less money the YWS has to spend on furniture, the more it can spend on “staffing, rental units, activities,” she adds.

Homeful Partnership members say they’ve already secured a sea can from the Stanton Foundation, which they now need to move downtown. The idea is to put Housing First branding on the container, then open it for several hours on weekends and staff it with volunteers. It’s still just an idea though, as they haven’t received approval from City Hall for the plan yet.

That said, the group seems confident about their success.

“I think we drop it on-site and then go to the City and ask for permission,” suggested Hughie Graham, a group member and the director of commercial leasing with Northview. “If the can is ready to move, we’ll move it whenever it’s ready. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness.”

Bassi-Kellett suggested a more level-headed approach: “I think we should be talking to the councillors and saying, ‘do you guys want a quick win?’ You have such an easy win, because you’re going to have the visibility that you’re taking action. There’s an opportunity for the City to be seen to be proactive in supporting Housing First and moving it ahead, through the signing of the agreement and then having something highly visible.”

This approach seemed to have won the day by the end of the meeting, and the group is now reaching out to city councillors and administration.

EDGE managed to reach five councillors and Mayor Mark Heyck to ask about the plan. Here’s what they told us:

Linda Bussey: “I would need to see the plan… If it’s well organized and we make good use of the space it could be a good interim solution, though it’s not a permanent solution.”

Julian Morse: “It’s a great idea. Anything we can do to activate the space in the interim and get people using it is a good thing, and something I think council will support.”

Niels Konge: “It will all depend on how it’s going to be run… Does it become a dumping ground? I would certainly need to know more, but fundamentally anything that’s going to bring life into the downtown I support.”

Steve Payne: “It’s a good idea. That lot is not really being used. I know we have some plans of doing permanent parking there, but a sea can doesn’t take up a lot of room and it’s right in the middle of ground zero… And if the homeless people see we’re making an effort, maybe we’ll get some different responses.”

Adrian Bell: “We’ve had some discussions recently about how to use the parking lot and have come to some decisions, so we’d have to see how this would work with the plans. I like the idea of having it somewhere visible and practical, but I’d have to see the plan and hear from my colleagues first.”

Mark Heyck: “I think Yellowknife is a very giving community, and I think it’s great to be able to facilitate the donation of goods and furniture. I guess one cautionary word would be, if you do talk to some of the sheltering agencies that do receive donations, quite often it’s not up to a standard that’s particularly usable, so if it’s monitored and they know what they’re getting, whatever we can do to facilitate that I’m sure we’ll look at that.”

EDGE: Would you support the sea can idea in particular?

“We could potentially. Council, as I’m sure you’re aware, is having conversations about what ultimately to do with that particular space. I haven’t heard a whole lot about the sea can concept. But we’ll have to see what our immediate term plans are for that space, because it does include parking and other things as well.”


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