The city and the Yellowknife Women’s Society are launching Common Ground, an employment program for people affected by homelessness and marginalization.

Coun. Linda Bussey, Mayor Mark Heyck and Deputy Mayor Adrian Bell. Avery Zingel/NNSL photo

“Hopefully this program provides opportunities for our workers to improve their housing stability, build their resumes and show potential employers that they are capable and reliable,” said Bree Denning, executive director of the Yellowknife Women’s Society.

The program, which began as a pilot in mid-May, will put a crew of eight to work five days a week picking up litter and debris in public spaces throughout Yellowknife, starting with the downtown core. The crew members will rotate, depending on who is able to work that day.

Artist Michael Fatt, who is originally from Lutsel’Ke and has had his own past struggles with homelessness suggested the society create a program for vulnerable individuals, said Denning.

Fatt wanted to create a program for people like him, she said.

The city will fund the initiative to the tune of $100,000 for wages and supplies.

“Hiring street-involved residents is one of the many ways we can address homelessness,” says Yellowknife Mayor Mark Heyck. “Council and administration are dedicated to finding fair and equitable ways of supporting some of our most marginalized people. We’re very happy to be working with the Yellowknife Women’s Society to make this program possible.”

Coun. Adrian Bell brought forward the initiative in the city’s 2017 budget. It was supported unanimously by council.

The program is based on similar models in Victoria, B.C. and in Winnipeg.

“We got what I think is a really strong proposal from the Yellowknife Women’s society,” said Bell.

“It’s an opportunity to provide residents who are experiencing homeless with opportunities for day labour. So not only an opportunity to earn money, but a reintroduction into the labour force, which can be difficult when people are battling addictions and mental health issues,” he said.

The initiative is being paid for through downtown reserve funds earned through parking revenues.

The women’s society hopes to branch out from the initial investment to build self-sustaining social enterprises, said Denning.

In a social enterprise, all the income of a project is reinvested in the people it aims to help.

Employees will be making minimum wage while cleaning areas around the city for six hours a day, she said.

“For some folks it just might be a means of supporting themselves. For others we’re hoping it can start to lead to housing stability and lead to other types of employment if they can go to another employer with good references,” said Denning.

It also offers opportunities to connect with the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation. Workers will meet with the foundation’s staff and access its programming as part of the work day, said Denning.

Through the program, workers can ideally set up bank accounts and build an employment history, she said.

“It’s a win-win, whether people want a day’s work for a bit of pocket money or work up towards full employment. There is something for everybody in it,” said Denning.

After the pilot program wraps up in September, the society hopes to have sustainable social enterprise through community organizations and private employers.

Aligning labour needs in a social enterprise would make such initiatives “independent of the government funding cycle,” she said.

“Stories about individuals who are experiencing homelessness are almost always focused on negative factors associated with homelessness – poverty, residential school experiences, family violence, addictions,” said Denning.

“This program is an opportunity for us to shift that narrative, and demonstrate that despite these challenges, these individuals have many strengths, are hard-working and contribute a lot to the community.”

Common Ground incorporates cultural and wellness support, stated a city news release yesterday. Elders and Indigenous healers incorporate ceremony and cultural practice within the work of the crews, which will give participants an opportunity to reconnect to the land, the release stated.

Avery Zingel

Avery Zingel is a reporter and photographer in Yellowknife, regularly covering environment, health and territorial politics. Avery is a graduate of the Carleton University School of Journalism and Political...

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