After a year of homelessness, last month things began to come together for Annie Thrasher and her family.
With help from N.W.T.'s Income Support program, the 49-year-old had enough money to rent a two-bedroom trailer in Yellowknife with her 19-year-old son.
Thrasher's two other children — her 16-year-old daughter and 22-year-old son — were also homeless. Finally, she thought, they'd all be off the streets, a family together again under one roof.
But Thrasher says Income Support refused to pay her rental allowance for the month of January while the three children were living with her in the two-bedroom trailer. She says the department told her it can't support "overcrowding."
"They don't support overcrowding. So in other words, are they promoting homelessness?" Thrasher says.
"That's the way it sounds. It doesn't sound right."
Thrasher says it was her worst nightmare having to tell two of her children they had to leave. When asked what it was like to make the decision to evict her children, Thrasher broke down.
"I'm worried about them because they won't be where I am," she says.
"I want them to have a safe place to stay ... a place where they could be together because we're such a close family."
The Northwest Territories Rental Tenancy Act doesn't define what constitutes overcrowding. But the Canadian Occupancy Standards — a national housing guideline — says each adult or co-habiting couple should have their own bedroom and two children of the same sex under 18 years of age or two opposite-sex children under five years of age can be expected to share a bedroom. However, those standards are only guidelines, not law.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education, Culture and Employment said she cannot comment on individual cases. In an email to CBC, she stated "Income Assistance applicants are assessed on an individual basis and each situation is unique in regards to rental assistance.
"For the safety of N.W.T. residents, in situations where [Income Assistance] clients are living in an overcrowded residence, ECE works with the client(s), other Departments, NGOs and landlords to address the situation."
Thrasher says the only option she was given was to have two of her children move out.
On Jan. 7, her 22-year-old son began sleeping at the SideDoor Youth Homeless Shelter. Her 16-year-old daughter is now crashing on a relative's couch.
Thrasher received her rental housing allowance on Jan. 8.
Originally from Paulatuk, N.W.T., Thrasher says she has struggled for years to secure permanent housing for herself and her nine children. While living in Inuvik a few years ago, she says, they lived all together in a tiny bachelor apartment.
"It's difficult for them and being their mom, I'm supposed to be strong and stern. My son asked me 'Mom, why does it have to be this way?' I have nothing to tell him."
She says for now she just prays for the safety of her children and is continuing to look for work so one day she can afford her own home.