Street outreach a ‘stopgap’ measure

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Yellowknife’s Street Outreach Program served 629 users since last July, but is a “stopgap measure” to addressing the systemic problems that leave people vulnerable, says a women’s advocate.

The van is a resource for people in need of care or a ride to a safe place, said Bree Denning, executive director of the Yellowknife Women’s Society.

Lydia Bardak, safe ride co-ordinator, left, and Connie Roberts, outreach worker, with the safe ride van in Yellowknife. NNSL file photo

The outreach van is a resource to take the pressure off of ambulance and police services, but is a placeholder for addressing systemic inequality, said Denning.

“We need to address the systemic problems of homelessness and addictions and poverty and racism in the community,” said Denning.

“I’m hoping that some day we won’t need it at all. My overall goal in terms of homelessness is to put myself out business through Housing First.”

Models like Yellowknife’s Housing First program are oriented around the principle that once a person is safely housed, they can begin to address other needs including health and social issues.

The wait lists for housing are considerable, said Denning.

The number one pick up location for users of the outreach van is Yellowknife’s Safe Harbour Day Centre, followed by the downtown core and third, Stanton Territorial.

Shelters are the most common drop-off location, followed by the sobering centre, currently at the Salvation Army. The individual’s home, or home of a friend or family were the third most common locations.

Over a seven month period, the van gave 7,133 rides to 629 unique users, states a Yellowknife Street Outreach Report.

Approximately 59 per cent of users were men.

The city has been piloting the street outreach initiative to address homelessness, at a cost to the city of about $160,000 for partial operation in 2017, and $360,000 for operation in 2018, said Grant White, director of community services.

Should the funding be continued into 2019, it will be determined in coming budgets, he said.

Asked if the city would seek partners at the federal and territorial level to fund the initiative, White stated the city had hired a grant writing position to help secure funding for projects.

“We’re always looking for new funding sources through the federal government, or any outside funding sources that we can find,” said white.

The city is also preparing to establish a $100,000 employment program for people experiencing homelessness.

In the meantime, the street van will exist as a harm reduction measure to take people who are at risk into lower risk environments, said Denning.

It enables social services to do wellness checks and informal tools to follow up with individuals who might require other services.

“It’s a ride to a shelter, or to get dinner. It helps them access basic services,” said Denning.

It also decreases the number of individuals being housed in jail cells and its associated costs.

“The police report that the number of people in cells are down. That’s what we want to see,” she said.

“Obviously nobody likes to be contained. I’m sure its jarring for individuals and it just doesn’t solve the issue,” she said.

Coun. Linda Bussey, who ran on a platform of addressing social issues, said the models of Housing First and street outreach are heading toward one common goal. Bussey sits on the Community Advisory Board on Homelessness (CAB).

Though homelessness is not a municipal responsibility, but the city has put forth its own initiative to address social issues within the city.
“I think its time the GNWT injects money in it. What we’ve been doing to support these initiatives in the city. Is it a municipal responsibility? No. But we’ve taken on social issues and we don’t have a social issues department.”

The CAB is looking for new funding for its city programs for street-involved people, she said.

“My job now until we finish is to make sure we’re looking at different initiatives, and get the GNWT up to the plate,” she said.