North

N.W.T. minister challenges Yellowknife MLAs on homelessness solutions

The N.W.T.’s homelessness minister has accused other Yellowknife MLAs of pushing the territory toward solutions she characterized as expensive and ineffective.

Caroline Cochrane says MLAs’ preferred plan will house just 1 person this year

The N.W.T.'s homelessness minister has accused other Yellowknife MLAs of pushing the territory toward solutions she characterizes as expensive and ineffective.

In an exchange with Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart, Caroline Cochrane said a partnership with the City of Yellowknife — pursued "on the strong advocacy of a couple of Yellowknife MLAs" — would house just one person this fiscal year.

Caroline Cochrane, N.W.T.'s minister responsible for addressing homelessness, says a partnership with the City of Yellowknife — pursued 'on the strong advocacy of a couple of Yellowknife MLAs' — would house just one person this fiscal year. (CBC)

Cochrane says that plan will place the individual into a private apartment, following the widely adopted Housing First model, at a combined cost to the city and territory of $390,000.

She added that a separate model, featuring semi-independent units inside emergency shelters, would provide 30 individuals with homes for an outlay of $600,000, or $20,000 per head.

Formerly the chief executive of Yellowknife's Centre for Northern Families, Cochrane has made plain her preference for units inside shelters over private apartments. She believes private apartments can encourage northern residents to "self-sabotage" in order to escape social isolation and return to their circle of friends.

Cochrane expects the new shelter accommodation to be ready before the coming winter, while the city's private apartment scheme is set to become operational by the end of the fiscal year. The territorial government is contributing $150,000 to that project.

Housing First initiatives aim to provide homeless people with safe, long-term accommodation before other issues, such as mental health or addictions, can be treated. Cochrane considers both the emergency shelter units and the private apartments to meet Housing First criteria.

'Vicious brawl' witnessed by MLAs

Testart introduced the topic at the legislature by recalling an encounter with "two severely intoxicated homeless people engaged in a vicious brawl" on the assembly's Yellowknife grounds that morning.

Cochrane, also a witness to that incident, replied: "Even though my history has been 20 years working with homeless people, I, for one, cannot attest that those two individuals were actually homeless people.

"So I'm not sure if what we were seeing was public drunkenness, loitering, or homelessness. I often think that sometimes people see them all and automatically claim 'homelessness', which is actually an insult to people."

Last month, Testart told CBC North Cochrane would be "failing in her job" until she committed to Housing First projects for Yellowknife.

'I have listened'

Cochrane alluded to that pledge on Monday when asked how the territory was addressing homelessness in its capital.

"When I was elected, my commitment was to listen. I have listened to the MLAs within the Yellowknife region," she said.

"A couple of our MLAs have been really adamant and said, 'You need to work with Housing First [and] partner with the City of Yellowknife. I was even accused that if I didn't do that, I was not doing my job.

"With the partnership the Yellowknife MLAs really advocated for, we will be housing one person for this fiscal year. With the semi-independent housing options we've done with the emergency shelters, we will be housing 30 people within this fiscal year."

now