N.W.T. housing minister wants to turn self-isolation rooms into public housing post-pandemic

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The N.W.T.'s housing minister said she would like to allocate over 100 units reserved for the self-isolation of homeless people into public housing units after the pandemic.

In April, the territory announced an $5 million relief package to create temporary housing so those with vulnerable or precarious housing situations could have a place to stay during the pandemic.

More than half of this funding was dedicated to renovate 130 units outside of Yellowknife.

Paulie Chinna, the N.W.T.'s housing minister, said she would like to see families and the most vulnerable live in these units after the pandemic.

"I would like to allocate them," Chinna told CBC. "We have an opportunity to work with what we have right now at the ground level to bring our units up to living conditions."

At the time of the funding announcement, Chinna said some units had been identified in Fort Simpson, and an apartment building was being looked at in Inuvik.

Chinna said any reallocations of these units are not set in stone yet because the territory still needs to review its finances after the pandemic has ended.

The CBC has asked the territory for more details about where these units are located and how they could be distributed to residents. The N.W.T. Housing Corporation is working on a reply.

'We need to do more'

The renovations would also create jobs in the smaller communities, Chinna continued.

"We need to have new players ... in the business of providing housing." - Michael McLeod, MP for the Northwest Territories

"We don't have the same services in the small communities," Chinna said.

Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod said he was happy with the housing minister's idea to "bring these units back on stream," but he said more needs to be done to get Indigenous leaders involved in the housing debate.

Hilary Bird/CBC
Hilary Bird/CBC

"We need to have new players … in the business of providing housing," McLeod said, citing the N.W.T. Housing Corporation's dominance over public housing units in the small communities.

"We need to do more."

McLeod said he has asked a federal committee to do an analysis of the housing conditions in northern communities to evaluate the need for public housing. This process was just about to start, McLeod said, when the pandemic hit — so the study is now on hold.

Fort Simpson mayor wants optional programming for homeless

There are no homeless people who sleep outside in Fort Simpson, according to mayor Sean Whelly, because they normally find a place to crash every night. Things started to change though during the pandemic.

"What happened was those places sort of closed up to them as people realized it wasn't safe," Whelly said. "Something had to be done."

Whelly estimates that at least twelve people are living in substandard housing conditions or without a place to call their own.


The village already has three spots where people with insecure housing live, Whelly said. All of these places are hidden away from Fort Simpson's main road.

"You shouldn't say that if you don't take the program, that you don't have a place to stay." - Sean Whelly, mayor of Fort Simpson

The housing corporation oversees a four-plex and a nine-plex in Fort Simpson, Whelly said. To stay in their units, Whelly said some of the occupants in the four-plex have to complete mandatory programs — something that does not always go according to plan.

Whelly said he has seen at least two people end up back on the street because they have not been able to successfully complete the programs.

If the territory decides to reallocate these units, Whelly said he wants to see the programming made optional.

"While it's nice to offer programs, you shouldn't say that if you don't take the program, that you don't have a place to stay," he said. "You can't necessarily tie those two things together."

At least half a dozen units are vacant in the village, Whelly said, but he could not specify if which ones were earmarked by the housing corporation as temporary housing units during the pandemic.

Hay River advocate calls for sobering centre model

Community advocate Tom Makepeace used to transport men to and from a temporary men's shelter in a trailer outside of Hay River's downtown until the pandemic started.

"The housing part is easy. You can put together any program you want, but the ... life counselling that goes with it is key." - Tom Makepeace, community advocate

That's when the shelter, along with Hay River's soup kitchen, was forced to shut down.

Four of the town's homeless men are now living at the North Country Inn, a small motel not far from Hay River's airport.

Makepeace said housing is only the first part of the equation needed to get people off the streets permanently.

"The housing part is easy, " Makepeace told CBC. "You can put together any program you want, but the … life counselling that goes with it is key."

Kirsten Murphy/CBC
Kirsten Murphy/CBC

Makepeace said the department should consider putting in place a similar system to the one hosted at Yellowknife's sobering and day centre, where homeless people were provided with rationed alcohol and on-site programming during a voluntary quarantine.

The NWT Disabilities Council found that the sobering centre's quarantine program helped more than 20 people decrease their alcohol and drug use.

He said the territory has seen the results — and it would work well in Hay River.

"People are realizing that you just don't house them, they need to have that alcohol," Makepeace said. "It makes sense."

Makepeace said there is enough staff and supplies in Hay River to get the same type of program up and running.