Yellowknife, Behchoko and Inuvik have the longest waitlists for public housing in the territory.
As of May 1st, Yellowknife has 299 people waiting for public housing, Behchoko has 128 and Inuvik has 102 on its waitlists. Hay River comes fourth with 93 people waiting for housing.
These numbers, however, do not mean that this exact number of people are homeless or without housing says director of strategic planning with the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation Revi Lau-a. “Even though an applicant might be on the public housing waiting list, they may not actually be in need of housing,” he says, adding some programs such as rental allowances or income assistance require clients to apply for public housing to access these programs. “Those numbers are not exactly illustrative of the demand for public housing, given that a certain portion of that waiting list may already have their housing needs met.”
Lau-a says one way to find out who is without any type of home is to look at point-in-time counts. These are done by putting together the numbers of people surveyed who say they are homeless, the counts are usually done over one day or a 24-hour period. Yellowknife’s 2018 count found 338 people experiencing homelessness. Many were youth – 42 per cent of those counted were under the age of 24 – and 90 per cent of those found homeless identified as Indigenous. The count noted an overrepresentation of Indigenous people, as only 23 per cent of the overall population of Yellowknife is Indigenous.
Lau-a says much of the work of the housing corporation is in maintaining existing buildings. “A significant portion of our capital expenditures go to ensuring that the existing infrastructure that we have last as long as possible.”
There are some new housing units opening up in the communities with long public housing lists Lau-a says, including a four-plex in Behchoko which will be supportive housing. “That’s really targeted towards single homeless individuals who would benefit from some level of support or wrap-around services.”
He adds similar projects in Fort Simpson and Aklavik have had success in stabilizing the life situation of people who were previously homeless. “It improves the housing outcomes of two different groups – the family or the families where those homeless people may have been couch surfing, and then of course helps them on their own path towards housing stability.”
In 2019-2020 the housing corporation is also looking at the construction of a complex of eight bachelor suites in Yellowknife. Like many communities, Lau-a says there is a big demand for single-person accommodation in the city.
Two projects targeting this demographic were recently announced, both run by the Yellowknife Women’s Society. The Arnica Inn is slated to become 42 single units of transitional housing and the society’s Franklin Ave. women’s shelter is renovating to house 16 suites.
Lau-a also points to the partnership with K’atl’odeeche First Nation in repairing housing units in the wake of the Mackenzie Place fire as a ‘very productive and positive’ one. MLA for Hay River North R.J. Simpson says there are still 18 people still without homes after the Hay River highrise fire.