Yellowknife city councillors voted unanimously to spend a block of federal emergency funding on more than a dozen programs aimed at addressing homelessness caused by COVID-19.
The federal government gave the city an extra $1.7 million in COVID-19 relief funding cash as part of the Reaching Home fund.
A selection of projects were recommended by the community advisory board on homelessness.
One was a land-based initiative proposed by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, which would be open to all Yellowknife residents experiencing homelessness.
“There’s enormous opportunity to welcome people into spaces that are safe for them, that are on the land, that are traditional uses, for people that are experiencing homelessness in the city right now,” said Sheila Bassi-Kellett, administrator with the City of Yellowknife. “We want to take a much more traditional approach.”
Funding will go towards paying a hunt coordinator who can help people trying to hunt on-the-land and gather from traditional food sources.
Councillor Julian Morse said during the governance and priorities committee meeting that the proposals for the Reaching Home Initiative were spending money in the wrong places.
“I feel like the connection to mitigating homelessness is even more kind of indirect, in this set of recommendations from the CAB,” said councillor Julian Morse. “It just seems like in absence of being able to identify programs that achieve that, we’ve kind of gone to funding other things.”
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said the criteria put on the funding from the federal government meant investing in housing projects wasn’t feasible. The money had to be allocated by March and spent by June and this was “the best we could do,” said Alty.
She added there had been “tonnes of confusion” around whether people were submitting proposals for the Rapid Housing Initiative or the Reaching Home Initiative. One had more than $20 million available, the other had less than $2 million available.
“The federal government’s creating policy from the ivory tower of Ottawa is a bit how I see this funding working,” said Alty. “They have very strict directives that you can use it for this funding, but you can’t use it for this — it’s time sensitive, there’s no opportunity to roll funding over.”
Alty added she has already asked to provide feedback on the program to the federal government, because she said she didn’t think it was achieving its goals.
Councillor Stacie Smith who is also chair of the community advisory board on homelessness said mitigating homelessness often “doesn’t mean having a roof over one’s head.”
“We can provide as many rooms, as many apartments for people to stay,” said Smith. “But if we’re not getting to the root of why they’re in the situation that they’re in, there will always continue to be homelessness.”
Smith reiterated Alty and Morse’s concerns about the funding, saying, “it’s difficult to continue to see these recommendations coming forward for a large amount of money and just knowing that, like we’re kind of doing impermanent solutions.”