Saturday, 26 November 2011

REVIEW: Homelessness in Yellowknife: An Emerging Social Challenge

Homelessness in Yellowknife: An Emerging Social Challenge
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Homelessness in Yellowknife: An Emerging Social Challenge. Nick Falvo. Published by the Canadian Homelessness Network Research Press. 2011.

This report provides a brief overview of characteristics and potential causes of homelessness in Yellowknife. The report then outlines several programs to alleviate this social issue in the city. Finally, recommendations are given on policy affecting homelessness.

The homeless population in Yellowknife is overrepresented by aboriginals living in the city. It is also more likely that homeless persons have predisposing risk factors such as a psychiatric diagnosis, heavy drug or alcohol use, and have inadequate job skills than the general population. Roughly five percent of individuals in Yellowknife experience homelessness at some point in their lives; comparatively, this percentage is approximately one percent nationwide. There is a general consensus among policy makers that unemployment, lack of affordable housing and inadequate social assistance benefits are major factors for homelessness. Conditions in Yellowknife are consistent with the aforementioned.

Program Responses

Program responses to homelessness can be categorized into: emergency shelters, transitional housing, supported independent living homes, independent living support, and public housing.  Emergency shelters provide temporary relief and are one of the least desirable types of housing in terms of living conditions and sustainability. Pomeroy states that the average annual cost to support one person at an emergency shelter is $13,000 - $42 000 (as cited in Falvo, 2011). The crowded living conditions within these shelters have been associated with adverse health consequences. Between 2007 and 2008, a Tuberculosis outbreak cost the public health care system approximately $500 000. Furthermore, valuable healthcare resources were allocated to contact people who may have had come in contact with infected clients at the shelter.

The YWCA operates two transitional housing units: one for households with children (Rockhill Transitional Housing) and another for women (BETTY). The Salvation Army provides one of the main transitional housing units for men-the Bailey House. Yellowknife has three supported independent homes run by the YWCA. These homes have 24 hour on-site staffing and house residents who receive social assistance and $1500 for income support.

The third type of housing program is independent living support, where YWCA staff attend private homes to provide assistance to individuals in need. Support staff may assist with administering medication, groceries, appointments, and social activities.  Yellowknife also has a public housing program which allows low-income individuals to pay rent that is geared to their income.


Yellowknife receives funding from three tiers of government for its homelessness programs. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) invest $417 000 in federal funding, three quarters of which have been used to develop the Bailey House.  The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) allocates $700 000 of its funds to the YWCA for its homelessness programs. The DHSS provides $ 125 000 in the form of the Homelessness Assistance fund. The GNWT also has a Small Communities Fund which grants $200 000 to small communities to start their own programs to relieve homelessness. Municipal assistance is given in the form of complimentary legal services, financial administration assistance, relief of permit fees and some property taxes for the Bailey House, and a donation of land on which the Bailey House was built. 

Policy Considerations

Several policy recommendations were outlined in this report. The first recommendation is to form a Homelessness Secretariat. Responsibilities of the Secretariat include creating and monitoring regulations for emergency shelters and collecting and maintaining standard statistics related to homelessness. Along the lines of the first recommendation, the report calls for emergency shelter standards. For example, ensuring there is a minimum number of staff at each shelter at all times and forming procedures on how to handle special circumstances, such as clients with Tuberculosis.

In order to ensure that funds for homelessness programs are effectively utilized, the report emphasizes the importance of members of the Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition to clearly communicate individual intentions within the group. Moreover, the GNWT minister of Health and Social Services and Minister Responsible for Northwest Territories Housing Corporation (NWTHC) need to create more affordable and supported housing. In a study done for the National Secretariat on Homelessness (as cited in Falvo, 2011), Pomeroy compares costs on various program expenses in Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver, and found that it is significantly cheaper to provide supported or public housing compared to emergency shelters.

The report also suggests the Minister of Health and Social Services be responsible for establishing a program to address the substance abuse issue that is clearly linked to homelessness. A managed alcohol and needle exchange program are two examples of health programs that may benefit Yellowknife.


A weakness of this report is that it did not describe potential shortcomings related to the research methodology.  An example of this is when the author states that only 21 out of 49 informant interviews were used for the project, but does not explain why.

Intended Audience

This report is useful for those interested in a summary of the homeless situation in Yellowknife.  It also provides policy and program ideas on how to deal with homelessness in areas with similar social demographics.

Reviewed by Darlene Lau


Pomeroy, Steve. (2005) The Cost of Homelessness: Analysis of Alternate Responses in Four Canadian Cities.Prepared for the National Secretariat on Homelessness.

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