Women and children the focus of Fort Good Hope housing forum
Politicians, researchers, non-profits and advocates are meeting in Fort Good Hope to discuss housing in a forum held by the K'ahsho Got'ine Housing Society.
Events began on January 23 and are set to continue until February 2. The first week's sessions focused on the ways in which the Northwest Territories' housing crisis is impacting the safety of women and children.
The meetings included feedback from Elders, local women and service providers, and looked at possible solutions.
Week two is all about strategy: community leaders and partners are looking at current projects, future goals and funding decisions.
Housing society director Arthur Tobac said a collaborative approach to the community's housing crisis has been years in the making.
"In the beginning, we needed a plan on how to move forward with housing," said Tobac. "It was unclear how we could move forward with the [Housing N.W.T.] repair program, how we could engage community, how we could work with different GNWT departments."
In 2017, the CBC reported that the community was struggling with "a dozen" damaged and abandoned homes, along with a housing shortage.
That year, the K'ahsho Got'ine Housing Society was formed and organizers held their first housing forum.
Tobac said founding the housing society gave the community a vehicle to move programs forward and create its own funding agreements with various partners. Now, almost six years later, those partners have gathered to hear where their money is going – and where it could go.
"While they're here, we can actually show them the results of their contributions, their funding or their support, to the K'ahsho Got'ine Housing Society," said Tobac. "We've gained some ground, attained a lot of the goals we first set out in our five-year strategy."
"My hope to come out of this next forum is that we're able to move forward in our plan to get a women's shelter," said Wanda Grandjambe, senior manager of the housing society.
Several forum sessions were facilitated by members of Yellowknife-based consulting firm PlanIt North.
"It's been about five years since there have been any big updates on what the housing society has been up to," said Korry Garvey, a project coordinator for PlanIt North. "And there have been so many projects on the go that Arthur and Wanda are running, ranging from a men's transition home to a program that raised funds for housing issues caused by climate change."
The society is also working locally to take on Housing N.W.T.'s repair and maintenance program.
"It's just easier to administer the program from within the community, by community members themselves," said Garvey.
Over the next few days, representatives from the Yamoga Land Corporation as well as K'ahsho Got'ine's chief and council will gather to give the society direction for its next chapter.
The main topic for many of this year's sessions was the gap in services for women in the area.
The link between housing insecurity and escalating intimate partner violence has been clear for decades, but the situation is especially dire in fly-in communities like Fort Good Hope. In 2018, a research report found that a lack of adequate housing was one of the most significant barriers to women escaping domestic violence in the N.W.T., and even more so in communities with limited road access.
In that report, multiple women said they had nowhere to go to escape unsafe situations. One of the report's main recommendations was to ensure every community has some form of safe place.
In Fort Good Hope, the K'ahsho Got'ine Housing Society is working with the YWCA and PlanIt North to do exactly that: they call it the Safe Homes pilot project.
"There are only five shelters for women across the N.W.T. and there are 33 communities, so there's the intention that this project, and communities that are leading the way like Fort Good Hope, can provide a blueprint for other communities," said Sophie Maksimowski, senior project manager for PlanIt North.
"And also there's an important evaluation piece to the pilot program as well. It will inform funders and hopefully be able to demonstrate success and a positive outcome for future initiatives."
By working closely with the YWCA, they hope that – despite being a small community with limited resources – they can offer a shelter that meets all the same needs as facilities in much bigger areas.
"Having YWCA as that partner, they have the resources and staff and facilities where training can take place, and they're also connected to a network of shelters across the N.W.T.," said Maksimowski.
"Everyone we've spoken to has really voiced that this is super important and needs to happen right away, so we're really pushing for that," added Garvey.
Now, after hearing from women in the community about their housing experiences, safety and emergency needs – and ideas for future programming – organizers say they have a better sense of what the Safe Homes project could look like in the years to come.
"As a community, we need to be able to move forward all together and not leave out anybody," said Tobac. "The housing society serves the public and it should be answerable to the public."
Caitrin Pilkington, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio