Homelessness has been a long-standing issue in Yellowknife. Recently it was reported that nearly 10 per cent of the city’s population experiences homelessness at some point each year.
Now, a new photo project published by Yellowknife-based photojournalist Cody Punter aims to shed light on the growing issue in the territory’s capital.
Punter has been covering the city’s issue of homelessness for years, starting when he worked as a reporter for Northern News Services.
He began work on his project Yellowknife’s Homeless Crisis in January last year.
“I just started going out and spending a lot of time downtown talking to people, taking their pictures from time to time and I guess I’ve been doing that really ever since,” he said.
Punter sat down with Moose FM to discuss his photo project, published online Thursday, and what he calls the ‘homeless crisis’ in Yellowknife.
“For me, I wanted to bring a different perspective to an issue that’s been talked about a lot in the last few years,” he said.
‘These people have names’
Browsing through Punter’s photos, each one shares the stories of some of Yellowknife’s homeless.
Their stories range from a couple who had been together on the streets for eight years to a man who started drinking at the age of nine as a coping mechanism after he says he was sexual assaulted by a family member.
One key message Punter hopes people take away from his project is that every person living on the street is just that, a person.
“Hopefully learning that these people have names and learning some of the things they’ve been through will help people be a bit more understanding,” he said.
“I don’t know how much my pictures are going to help bring that point home but hope at least it gives a face and a name to the issue.”
$170M – ‘Are people going to be willing to stomach that bill?’
A 10-year plan to end homelessness in the territory was released in October – on Monday, a consultant for the city told councilors that it could cost up to $170 million over the next decade to fix the issue.
“This problem is really a lot bigger than people are giving it credit for, and we saw the dollar amount that it’s going to take to address this,” Punter said.
“I think the big elephant in the room is this $170 million price tag… That’s a lot of money, but I think that number accurately reflects the size of the problem.
“People talk a lot about wanting to fix this issue or having compassion for the people on the streets but are people going to be willing to stomach that bill?”
While Punter says the city’s attitude towards Yellowknife’s homeless has come a long way over the past three or four years, we still have a long way to go, and federal action is needed.
He believes a treatment centre is needed in the territory to help address the trauma behind people’s addictions on the street.
“It’s not just alcoholism for a lot of people, there’s a lot of trauma, there are various mental health issues that people are struggling with,” said Punter, adding that many of the people he spoke to on the street were sober.
“Some of them aren’t even alcoholics. There are some people who are on the streets who are sober but they don’t have enough money to get by,” he said.
“Not everybody is an alcoholic and not everybody is a drug addict. The more we put a face and a name to this issue the more we can understand the multiple elements that are at play.”
You can find Punter’s project Yellowknife’e Homeless Crisis on his photojournalism blog True North Photo Journal.