Yellowknife approves $1.8M in homelessness prevention initiatives

The City of Yellowknife voted to spend almost $2 million in federal funding on initiatives to reduce homelessness, including support for land-based programming by Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

Councillors vote to support land-based programming, Housing First and breakfast programs

Yellowknife city council allocated almost $2 million in federal funding Monday toward a variety of initiatives aimed at reducing homelessness. (Michael Hugall/CBC)

Yellowknife city councillors have voted to spend $1.8 million in federal money on projects they say will reduce homelessness and address its root causes.

With strict rules for how the COVID-19 homelessness funding can be spent, Yellowknife city councillors chose to target some of the root causes of homelessness.

City council decided to allocate $370,438 to initiatives including a land-based program run by Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) and $100,000 for community hunts. 

Council voted unanimously Monday evening to approve the funding allocations recommended by the city's Community Advisory Board on Homelessness. The allocations include both regular funding from the federal government's Reaching Home initiative for 2021-22, as well as a special allocation tied to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There is more to ending homelessness than just providing a home," said Coun. Stacie Smith, acknowledging that the money won't create new housing. She said initiatives like the YKDFN land-based program recognize the importance of culture. 

Smith said the advisory board on homelessness consulted non-governmental organizations on their needs and allocated money to programs like Housing First, which helps people who are chronically homeless access services and private market housing. 

Housing First will receive $900,000 from the two federal pots of money. The women's shelter will get $25,000.

Other homelessness prevention and diversion initiatives will get $219,000.

'There is more to ending homelessness than just providing a home,' said Yellowknife city councillor Stacie Smith. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

The on-the-land program will be open to people experiencing homelessness in Yellowknife.

The COVID-19 spending will support food and breakfast programs, such as those offered by the YWCA, which is set to receive $10,000. 

As the city debated how to spend almost $2 million from the federal government, it realized it would not be able to put the money into permanent housing. Mayor Rebecca Alty said earlier this month that a major reason the money couldn't go toward more permanent housing projects is that the "federal directives are quite restrictive and the money has to be spent so quickly."

Smith said despite this, the city can support programs that recognize the needs of the tight-knit community of people facing homelessness — some of whom return to shelters after they are put into housing. 

"We can provide as many roofs, apartments for people to stay, but if we're not getting to the root of why they're in the situation that they're in, there will always be homelessness," said Smith. 

"We found other opportunities where we could put our energies to assist them in those holistic methods that might reach them a lot better than the norm."

City to give feds feedback

Alty said the city will give the federal government feedback, including its criticism that tight timelines kept the city from putting the money toward permanent housing initiatives. 

The federal objectives for the Reaching Home COVID-19 funding program are to extend COVID-19 measures for people experiencing homelessness, to find permanent housing for people in temporary housing, and to divert people away from becoming homeless or entering the shelter system.