‘It’s an emergency here’: Yellowknife and the people who have no place safe to live  

Dressed in a black hoodie and shorts, Kathleen takes a drag from her cigarette under the midnight sun. On this night, she has nowhere to go and nothing to do in downtown Yellowknife.

“You feel like you’re thrown out like the garbage,” Kathleen said.

Originally from Kugluktuk, Nunavut, Kathleen has lived on the streets of Yellowknife or been sleeping in emergency drop-in shelters for the past five years.

“At the shelter, staff often have to shake you to wake you up and get you up, then you are kicked out and have limited food and snacks and have to walk around with no water, only the street outreach van who sometimes hands it out,” she said.

She only wants her first name used. Sitting on a curb, she shares her experience.

“Our cycle is from the foster care,” she said, “and then to the streets, you become an adult what else are you supposed to do, where else are you supposed to go? Sometimes you have an incident case manager but they don’t always help you, and the sobering center government workers make a lot of money that could go to homeless and housing.”

On June 26, Kathleen attended a public roundtable on homelessness hosted by the City of Yellowknife, but said she remains skeptical of any outcomes.

The event, led by Wally Czech from the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, attracted approximately 100 attendees which included local politicians, non-profit organizations, and community members.

Georgina Franki is a Tłı̨chǫ-language instructor in Yellowknife and supports individuals facing homelessness in the Northwest Territories.

“It’s an emergency here. We have over 200 homeless people in the city, so right now we are looking at a tent encampment, and we are trying to provide safety for the homeless,” Franki said.

She is part of a group of Yellowknife residents constructing wooden platforms for tents.

The first foundation went up late June on the hillside in front of the N.W.T. legislature.

“Homeless people are stuck, and we need to come together for resources,” Franki said addressing the crowd at the roundtable.

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty described the event as a chance for the public to share their thoughts on how the government and residents can collaborate to provide assistance.

“There’s discussions with the territorial government since the first tent pad has been set up on commissioner’s land, so we’ll have to see how that can go and what that can look like,” Alty said.

Attendees were divided into small groups and assigned topics to brainstorm. Alty mentioned funding gaps as a significant challenge in addressing the issue.

“The 10-year plan to end homelessness really relied on having the federal and territorial funding, and we have seen a lot of federal housing funding in the past few years, but we do need, we still need more,” she said.

Participants had to answer questions like, If down the road in 10 years, no plans worked, what would the Yellowknife homeless situation look like?

Tina Wrigley, originally from Deline is a mother of four, a day school survivor and soon to be a certified Indigenous mental health counselor.

She said she’s been living in Yellowknife for years and said she’s only seen the homeless problem worsen.

“I knew most of our people on the street and no one talks about mental illness, but we come here and talk about how to stop homelessness,” Wrigley said. “In order for us to really take care of homelessness, we got to take care within, their mental illnesses.

“Have a seat open for Indigenous counsellors in Salvation Army, drop-in sobering centre and in schools,”

Wrigley pointed out the lack of unhoused Indigenous attendees attending the roundtable.

“Give me back my piece of land, so I can build an Indigenous healing center for my people,” she said, “They [people experiencing homelessness) went through trauma, and they don’t know how to break the system because they don’t have no system to fall on.”
Wrigley herself experienced homelessness in Deline when her partner left her with housing arrears and moved to Yellowknife. She made the difficult decision to give her children to child and family services but worked tirelessly to clear her debts and reunite her family within a year.

“What are we doing to help homeless people with children in the system in order for them to get their children back, when governments fights families they are breaking the bond,” Wrigley said.

The most recent data is from 2021, showing that there are over 300 people experiencing homelessness in Yellowknife.

For now, a report summarizing the feedback from the roundtable, including the recommendations, will be sent to city hall, the territorial government, and the public.

For Kathleen, she said she is frustrated with shelters and feelings like she can’t speak out about the conditions.

“I’d sleep in a tent outside if I had one,” Kathleen said.

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