‘I have listened’ – NWT minister talks homelessness solutions

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The territory’s minister responsible for homelessness says one chronic homeless person will be housed in Yellowknife this fiscal year using a Housing First model in partnership with the city.

In an exchange with Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart Monday, Caroline Cochrane said the option was pursued on the ‘strong advocacy’ of a couple Yellowknife MLAs.

Read: Yellowknife ‘needs more thorough’ homeless count

Housing First is a social program in which authorities work to secure safe, permanent housing for vulnerable people as a priority.

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But Cochrane says a separate model featuring semi-independent units inside emergency shelters provides a much cheaper alternative per head.

Combined, the City of Yellowknife and the territorial government will spend $390,000 to place one person in a private apartment following the Housing First model.

Meanwhile, the other model Cochrane referenced would house 30 people at a cost of $600,000.

“Together, we will be housing a minimum of 31 people this fiscal year,” Cochrane told MLAs.

‘Yellowknifers have had enough’

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Testart initiated Monday’s discussion after witnessing a ‘vicious brawl’ ahead of the afternoon session.

“This morning I had the misfortune to encounter two severely intoxicated homeless people engaged in a vicious brawl here on the grounds of the legislative assembly no less,” he said.

“Unfortunately this is an all too common sight here on the streets of Yellowknife and Yellowknifers have had enough. On a per capita basis, we have a significant problem in this community as large as the city of Toronto.

“Chronic homeless people use 51 per cent of our emergency services and are a huge cost to the taxpayer.”

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Read: Yellowknife homelessness ‘worse than Toronto’ – but can be fixed

Cochrane also witnessed the incident heading into work, though she was hesitant to classify those involved as homeless.

“I for one cannot attest that those two individuals were actually homeless people. 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 just automatically claim homelessness which is actually an insult to people.

“I have listened to the MLAs within the Yellowknife region. A couple of Yellowknife MLAs have been really adamant and said, ‘you need to work with Housing First and you need to work with the City of Yellowknife.’

“In fact I was even accused that if I didn’t do that, I was not doing my job.”

In late April, two task forces and 65 recommendations came out of a homelessness forum attended by municipal and territorial partners in Yellowknife.

Last spring, 139 people were identified as homeless during a point-in-time count in the city. Though many people, including Cochrane, feel that figure doesn’t tell the whole story.

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