Yellowknife City Council debates how to spend $1.5M of federal funding for homelesness

·2 min read

Yellowknife city council met on Monday to discuss how to allocate $1.469 million worth of federal funding they received last month to address homelessness during the pandemic.

In April, the city received $500,000 from the Reaching Home initiative, which is a part of Canada's national strategy to reduce chronic homelessness. Most of that money went toward programs offered by non-governmental organizations, like the Women's Society, the Salvation Army and Side Door.

Of that funding, they have just under $200,000 remaining.

Now, the nearly $1.5 million of federal funds from October — secured on the condition it's spent before March 31, 2021 — needs to be allocated.

During a special meeting, city council debated whether to approve the spending recommendations made by the community advisory board on homelessness.

Rental arrears, shelter space

The first recommendation made by board is to allocate $300,000 to address rental arrears and to provide temporary rental support for those that are experiencing homelessness or may be at imminent risk.

That amount was determined by landlords in Yellowknife who told the city the number of outstanding rental arrears they have. Around $800,000 is suggested to support 20 shelter beds for individuals and 10 shelter rooms for families which would be done using hotel rooms, says Grant White, the director of community services with the city.

However, councillors called for longer term solutions and asked whether the funding could be used toward securing a permanent location for transitional or affordable housing.

Coun. Shauna Morgan said that renting hotels seemed like an "inefficient way to use the funding."

Although she says she is happy that there is a significant amount of funding available, she wanted to see that turned into more "sustainable solutions." Other councillors agreed.

Coun. Steve Payne noted that homelessness was a "chronic problem" and was sceptical that a "temporary fix" would be the best route for addressing the housing issues that the city faces.

Permanent housing options

Mayor Rebecca Alty made an alternative recommendation and suggested that the community advisory board look for more permanent housing options.

In the meantime, Alty says she will request an extension on the March 31 expenditure deadline, or request that the funding be committed before that date, but spent after. She also plans to ask the federal government to review their residential assets in Yellowknife to see if any locations could be used for affordable housing.

Alty said she made this alternative recommendation because she doesn't want to leave "any stone unturned."

"If no permanent affordable housing can be found then I would be happy to consider this recommendation in the future," said Alty.

She says she hopes the federal and territorial governments, along with local NGOs and businesses, will partner with the city to find a location to secure the transitional housing that the city needs.

Council will hold a special meeting to move a motion in early December before they conclude for the year.