Yellowknife is a city of contradictions. At one time a booming city of mining wealth, the numbers of homelessness might have seemed less apparent.
Nowadays a good portion of the territory’s workers (11 per cent) are employed by the territorial government; the GNWT is lauded as one of the best paying employers in Canada with pay rates ranging from an entry level salary of $48,711 per year to the most senior rank and file salary of $162,630 per year. That position is juxtaposed by the number of people (18.9 per cent in 2016) in living on low incomes – who deal with episodic or transitional, short-term homelessness.
Often those people living with low incomes and at times addictions or other traumas, can’t access housing due to previous troublesome rental histories or circumstances that keep them from entering into a rental agreement with a rental agent which can send them into short-term homelessness.
The Next Step Rapid Rehousing program, introduced by the Yellowknife Women’s Society, has taken steps to address the problems that come with poor rental histories and credit scores.
The rapid re-housing program which is similar to Housing First, aims to help individuals or families who don’t qualify for traditional Housing First programs.
Most of us fall into the middle ground, we have a home to go to, a bed to lay in and enough food to get us through to the next pay cheque. For that more than 18 per cent though, programs like rapid rehousing is a blessing indeed.
The program aims to limit risk for the landlord by mitigating the costs of damages or unpaid rents and absorbing the risk. It also provides support to the clients for the first six to 12 months, ensuring they have what they need to be housed independently.
Originally designed to alleviate some of the long wait lists with Housing First the program has already helped six individuals in its first few months of operation.
Yellowknife Women’s Society executive director Bree Denning said the rehousing program’s goal is to address barriers that exist between clients and renters and getting clients into available rental units.
The program is a smart answer to an overwhelming problem in the city where there are many rental units but few landlords. Northview REIT (NPR) owns almost three quarters of the rental properties in Yellowknife based on 2014 reports. In that same year NPR reported that two-thirds of its tenants were behind on rent payment and because of this tightened its rules on renting to low-income earners.
Hopefully the rehousing program will turn the tide on some of those stricter landlords and will start opening more rental opportunities for people who call this city their home.
With a long wait list and a lofty goal of doubling its capacity to 40 clients it’s time for federal and territorial governments to look at the positive outcomes a program such as Rapid Rehousing will have on the city’s homeless.
As Denning put it, the message needs to go to the people who are “deciding where funding goes and making resources available for these programs.”
“There are a lot of people in need.”