Gifts for the kids, but a safe housing crisis in Yellowknife this Christmas

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Yellowknife, NWT – Katie Parker is new to Yellowknife. And so is Lynn’s Place.

The safe housing facility only opened two months ago. When Parker wanted to help her new community this Christmas, she decided Lynn’s was the place to start.

“I’m not from here but I want to invest in the community and I have young kids, so I want them to invest in the community,” says Parker.

“I called the YWCA and they said that Lynn’s Place, because it’s so new, doesn’t have a toy drive or anything in particular for it.”

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Parker changed that. She set up an online campaign where donors can sign up to give gifts to each of the 25 children living at Lynn’s Place (pictured, above).

No names or personal information are handed out – anyone signing up is given the age and gender of a child, and encouraged to buy an age-appropriate gift. Cash donations have been coming in, too.

“On Friday, I sent out my Facebook event. By Saturday, I had all 25 children secured with one gift each,” says Parker.

“By Sunday, I probably had that list halfway done again and about $700 in donations. It’s kind-of taken off like crazy and I’m so excited for these kids.

“This is their first Christmas in their new, safe home, it’s such a special time to provide something for them.”

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Over at Lynn’s Place, the scene is imaginatively festive. Instead of a Christmas tree, a large, donated rubber plant has been decorated for the holiday season.

“It’s super-exciting. We’ve decorated for Christmas, it definitely feels a lot more lived-in. There’s a hustle and bustle, kids are coming in and out of school, there’s a lot of life to it,” says Kate Caines, who manages Lynn’s Place.

“Christmas is a tough time,” she tells Moose FM. “A lot of people are focused on food, and want to be festive, but they don’t have the extra income to do that.”

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Caines says Parker’s gift program will have “a great impact” on Christmas at Lynn’s, where residents pay between $900 and $1,750 on their monthly rent.

Julie Green, the director of community relations here, says Northern rent costs are so high – even in safe housing like this – that residents often have little money to spare.

But then, neither does Lynn’s Place itself.

“The budget is skimpy,” says Green. “We can’t charge any more for rent. People just don’t have any more money for rent and we know that if we put up rent, it comes out of people’s food budget, and we don’t want to see that happen.”

Not that the rent has stopped applications coming in. In fact, Yellowknife faces the opposite problem and Green does not hesitate in calling it a crisis: there is nowhere for many vulnerable people to stay this Christmas.

“The reality is that in Yellowknife there are hundreds of people who are waiting for social housing,” says Green.

“There’s a waiting list of about 150 people at Rockhill last I heard, there’s a waiting list at Northern United Place of about 30, theres a waiting list at the Yellowknife Housing Association of about 150.

“There are literally hundreds of people waiting to get into housing.”

“We’ve been getting a ton of applications,” says Caines. “Unfortunately, we aren’t able to house everybody and that’s a challenge for sure.”

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Lynn’s Place is transitional housing. That means residents are, theoretically, only here for the short term until they can find a safer, more permanent home.

However, that is obviously a process that can take some time.

“There’s no way of really telling when people are ready to move out of Lynn’s Place,” adds Caines. “It really varies case by case, person to person, family to family.”

That means there is no telling when space may open up again. Right now, only one, three-bedroom family apartment remains vacant.

While the children of Lynn’s Place unwrap their gifts this Christmas, Green is concerned for those who were not lucky enough to find a home.

“I really do worry,” she says, “about people who are living in relationships of convenience, people living in unsafe relationships. People couch-surfing, living without their children, because they don’t have anywhere to live.

“It’s an abysmal situation.”

CJCD Moose FM News

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