Homelessness has long been an issue in Behchoko, but no one really knows just how widespread it is, or the best way to help.

That's about to change.

A sweeping assessment is being undertaken over the course of two weeks, starting Sept. 25.

"It's a really, really comprehensive, long needs assessment that we want to do one-on-one with homeless people," said Ellen Huse, a consultant who will lead the assessment in partnership with Tłı̨chǫ Łeàgı̨ą Tsʾı̨ı̨lı̨ Kǫ (TLTK), also known as the Rae-Edzo Friendship Centre.

"Basically finding out what their needs are — from them — instead of just from the outside looking in and saying 'Well, they need this or they need that.'" 

The results will be used in requests for funding for community projects and programs, she said.

"It's just been known that there's a high number of homeless people in Behchoko and there are just not many services for people there."

It is believed some 100-125 people living in the community of 2,150 are homeless, according to Huse, adding that many more have made their way to Yellowknife, about 100 kilometres southeast, where they remain homeless.

"The highest number of homeless in Yellowknife are from Behchoko," she said. "Obviously, they've left Behchoko for a reason, and we want to find out what those reasons are."

Homeless man

It is believed some 100-125 people living in Behchoko are homeless with many more struggling in Yellowknife. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The friendship centre, along with other organizations, including the Behchoko Community Government, the health centre, churches, associations for people with disabilities, youth agencies and others, put in a proposal and received funding to do the needs assessment.

The data that is gathered will be shared with those other organizations "to leverage funding for their own programs and services," Huse said.

Interviews will be conducted at the friendship centre, which provides a hot lunch program and a gathering place for homeless people. It's a good place to start, Huse said.

​"I'll be getting them wherever I can find them." - Ellen Huse

She hopes those people will go out and speak to others, encouraging them to get involved, too.

"And we also do have an incentive, which I do think will make a difference," she said.

Those who participate will be given a $10 gift certificate for either the Northern Store in Behchoko or the Independent Grocer in Yellowknife.

Huse will also be out, with helpers, trying to reach as many people as she can. She then plans to go to Yellowknife and do the same.

​"I'll be getting them wherever I can find them," she said, adding she will also look to reach those homeless people who are in jail.

She wants to spend time learning about the difficulties they face in finding housing or jobs "and then what ways that stakeholders and partners and homeless people can come together and start creating some solutions."

Those surveyed will remain anonymous and participation is voluntary.

Survey interviews take place in person on the following dates:

  • Behchoko — Sept. 25-Oct. 3
  • Yellowknife — Oct. 4-6

People are asked to show up at the friendship centre in Behchoko or call 867-392-6000 to book a time for an interview.