Homelessness action plan aims to expand services and prioritize long-term planning

Creating a sobering centre and expanding shelter hours in Yellowknife are a few of the top priorities of a new action plan to reduce homelessness.

Expanding emergency shelters, Housing First, and a managed alcohol program listed as priorities in Yellowknife

Yellowknife Mayor Mark Heyck speaks at the release of the Yellowknife Homelessness Road Map Action Plan on Friday at city hall. At his right are Caroline Cochrane, the minister responsible for addressing homelessness, and Health Minister Glen Abernethy. (Mitch Wiles/CBC)

Creating a sobering centre and expanding shelter hours in Yellowknife are a few of the top priorities of a new action plan to reduce homelessness. 

The Yellowknife Homelessness Road Map Action Plan released Friday includes 11 recommendations under three priorities: improved co-ordination and collaboration, new or enhanced services, and long term planning.

They come from a working group that included members from the City of Yellowknife, RCMP, territorial government, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, and local shelters, and ideas collected from a homelessness forum in April. Caroline Cochrane, the minister responsible for addressing homelessness, hosted the forum.

The plan recommends creating a Street Outreach Services program that would include creation of a detox facility or sobering centre. The idea is to reduce the use of ambulance, police, and emergency room services by having paid staff provide transportation for homeless people to shelters, hospital, or a sobering centre. The cost of the program is estimated at $300,000 annually and could be implemented within six months.

Another recommendation — expanding capacity at Yellowknife's emergency shelters — is already in the works. The territorial government committed $600,000 in 2016/2017 budget to renovating shelter spaces at the Salvation Army and Yellowknife Women's Society. There is also a recommendation to expand shelter hours to close gaps in service and limit the stress on people who are forced to relocate multiple times a day.

Emergency shelter expansion and renovation a top priority under the new Yellowknife Homelessness Road Map Action Plan. (CBC)

Continued support for Housing First

Under the Housing First model, the plan sets a goal of housing 18-20 people by December 2018 and securing new funding for 2019. The City of Yellowknife has spent the past three years working on implementing the model of housing the homeless without set requirements such as sobriety. 

Other recommendations include a harm reduction pilot program of supplying a rationed amount of alcohol to people suffering from severe addictions. The aim is to reduce the consumption of non-beverage alcohol, and stabilize participants to a point where they are better positioned to seek help, and are less of a strain on police and emergency services.

Also on the agenda is establishing an inter-agency committee to co-ordinate the activities of front-line agencies, and developing a broad 10-year plan to address homelessness in Yellowknife.