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Homelessness top priority for Yellowknifers, according to city survey

The City of Yellowknife is asking residents how they want their tax dollars spent in 2017, and so far tackling homelessness is coming out on top.

City of Yellowknife surveyed people's budget priorities; addressing homelessness came out on top

According to the City of Yellowknife website, about 200 people have taken the 2017 budget survey. So far, respondents have chosen homelessness as their top priority. (City of Yellowknife)

The City of Yellowknife is asking residents how they want their tax dollars spent in 2017, and so far tackling homelessness is coming out on top.

On Thursday, the city published the results of a survey it conducted to better understand the community's budget priorities.

About 200 people have completed the survey. Of those, 90 people rated "homelessness" as their top priority. Items like roads and sidewalks, solid waste management, and public transit were rated significantly less of a priority for the majority of respondents.

'We have to do something'

"It's no surprise to me," said Yellowknife resident Mary Bell-Cruz of the survey results.

"I think that [homelessness] is the top priority, because sometimes when I'm walking I see lots of people in the street that don't have a home.

"I hope the government will give a priority to them."

Yellowknife's Mary Bell-Cruz says tackling homelessness is 'definitely' a top budget priority for her. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

Yellowknifer James Mager agrees with Bell-Cruz and respondents of the survey.

"There's so much homelessness, just more and more of it. We have to do something," he says.

"It's probably the most important priority for me."

Mager says spending money to help end homelessness is "absolutely" more important than investing in new infrastructure projects or public transit.

He wants to see the city put more resources into getting its Housing First model off the ground — a model Yellowknife city council approved more than two years ago.

'I can't imagine not having a place to live, so when I see people out there with nowhere to go, I feel for them,' said Yellowknife's James Mager. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

"I can't imagine not having a place to live, so when I see people out there with nowhere to go, I feel for them," Mager said.

"I think if people had enough to at least have a place to live, then they'd be doing better."

'There's a lot of NIMBYism going on'

Lauren Gostick, a social worker in the city, agrees that homelessness should be a top budget priority, but is questioning people's motivations for making it number one.

"I'd like to think it's because people have become more empathetic to issues around homelessness and folks being street involved, but I feel like there's a lot of NIMBYism [not in my backyard] going on," Gostick said.

"People don't want to see folks drinking or participating in street level activities out front of the post office they have to enter."

Lauren Gostick is skeptical when it comes to people's motivations for making homelessness a top priority, but agrees that more money needs to be dedicated to the issue. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

Nevertheless, Gotstick says putting money into homelessness and harm reduction is cost effective, "because we're then saving money in areas like emergency services and health care."

The city will continue to hold "public engagement events" related to the 2017 budget over the next four weeks, and will host an open house presentation of the draft budget at city hall on Nov. 15 and 17.

The budget survey can be found here.

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