Housing Minister gives more detail on self-isolation units for homeless in N.W.T. communities

The N.W.T.'s housing minister specified some communities outside of Yellowknife that will be part of a $3.6 million package to secure self-isolation units for the territory's homeless population.

$3.6M announced Tuesday will help set up 130 units outside of Yellowknife

Housing Minister Paulie Chinna offered more detail Wednesday on how $3.6 million the territorial government has dedicated to providing self-isolation units for the homeless population outside Yellowknife will be spent. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The N.W.T.'s housing minister says Fort Simpson and Inuvik are among the communitites that will get self-isolation units for the territory's homeless population outside of Yellowknife

Speaking to The Trailbreaker's Loren McGinnis on Wednesday morning, Minister Paulie Chinna offered some details on how the NWT Housing Corporation plans to spend $3.6 million to build units for the homeless, as part of a larger package designed to offer relief from the COVID-19 pandemic announced yesterday.

As part of that package, $5 million was announced to create temporary units for the homeless to self-isolate — $1.4 million in Yellowknife, for creating 36 units at Aspen Apartments and 25 units at the Arnica Inn, and the rest to set up 130 units outside of Yellowknife and renovate existing stock.

Chinna said that the housing corporation has "units identified in Fort Simpson" and has "secured places in Yellowknife." In Inuvik, she said, the corporation is looking at an apartment building as a potential solution.

The corporation is also looking at securing hotel rooms with the funding, she said, and is rapidly working with stakeholders to identify need and suitable buildings in other communities.

"Spaces are crucial right now, and what's available on the ground, there's not very much available," said Chinna. "It's very crucial at this time that we need to locate these units."

The Aspen Apartments on Yellowknife's 51 Street will be converted into temporary housing for the town's homeless population to self-isolate. Other buildings have been identified in Fort Simpson and Inuvik, Chinna said. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Chinna said that she hoped to have units identified "as soon as possible," and noted the end of April as a possible timeline. However, she noted that in some communities, availability will be somewhat dependent on the ability to get building supplies to them.

She also said that the corporation is moving with an eye toward hospital capacity, noting that hospitals could be overwhelmed and other spaces might be needed in the future.

"We can't take in every patient at Stanton. There's a possibility that we may not be able to take as many patients throughout the Northwest Territories," she said. "It's a very crucial time, I want to say."

'We're just moving a lot faster'

Chinna said that the corporation is working with the N.W.T. Health Department and other partners to make sure that the proper supports are provided to those who are in need of the self-isolation units, including addictions, mental health, and income support.

She noted that her department provides the infrastructure and maintenance, but counts on partners to provide social supports.

"We're trying our best as a government to make sure those services are provided."

Addressing the future of any converted units, Chinna said that the corporation is focused on alleviating the short-term need at the moment, but that many of the buildings identified were already part of a longer-term housing strategy.

"We're just moving a lot faster [because of the pandemic]. Acquiring the units that we wanted to, we're just doing it a lot quicker," said Chinna.

"As we go forward, we'll have to look at things strategically. Planning for this pandemic has really opened our eyes as a department."

Based on an interview with Loren McGinnis