A file photo of Fort Good Hope. Mattcatpurple/Wikimedia
As Covid-19 touches lives across the North, Fort Good Hope is feeling it a little harder. Work on a community housing strategy has been suspended due to the pandemic.
Fort Good Hope is one of the harder-hit communities in the present NWT housing crisis. Last year, two-thirds of Fort Good Hope’s 173 households reported some kind of problem with their unit.
In the Sahtu and Beaufort Delta, only Colville Lake residents reported worse conditions. An assessment in 2017 said “at least 75 people” in Fort Good Hope were homeless or at risk of homelessness.
To combat that, the community’s K’asho Got’ı̨nę Housing Society (KGHS) adopted a five-year strategic plan and action plan on March 30.
Edwin Erutse, president of KGHS, told Cabin Radio the housing society held a Covid-19 planning meeting last week with Chief Daniel Masuzumi, the community nurse, RCMP, the hamlet’s senior administrator, and the housing association.
“We’re meeting every week to follow up where we are, identifying our needs as a community,” Erutse said. “We’re going through, having those discussions, and seeing what’s available in case a worst-case scenario arises.
“Because of Covid-19, everything has been put on hold. We aren’t sure when [but], like everyone else, when things are able to get back to normal [the society will] carry on with our plans.”
Erutse says 25 men, three women, and three families in insecure and transient situations are the immediate focus for the society.
James Caesar, executive director of the society, said three men are moving into transitional housing at the Kádúyı́le Home. A fourth is expected to move there later in the spring.
Repairs, then new homes
KGHS is one of 24 groups to receive funding through Ottawa’s Indigenous Homes Innovation initiative. Caesar says the money is helping the society to assess repairs and maintenance needed on private homes.
“This is going to give us a clearer sense of need than what is available from the GNWT and federal statistics,” he said. The society is studying the feasibility of launching a “sweat-equity, lease-to-own program.”
“Sixty households have accessed our no-interest loan program and labour services for maintenance and repairs of their private homes,” said Caesar. “We have identified that the number of houses needing major repairs is one of our major challenges – 58 percent of houses in Fort Good Hope need major repairs.”
Those repairs offer a means to provide work experience and trade apprenticeships to Fort Good Hope residents.
Fifty-five percent of homes in the community are privately owned. Caesar said Fort Good Hope has a higher rate of homeownership than most of the territory’s smaller communities.
The community of Fort Good Hope is pictured in November 2019. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
“This reflects our culture of self-sufficiency and it is something we want to keep supporting,” he said. “We don’t want to make housing programs that build dependency.”
He said repairs are a short-term focus for the society while work takes place on longer-term initiatives like building new homes and shelters.
“Since we need to identify land, capital funding, and operational funding for those sorts of projects, you are looking at two to three-year planning horizons. They don’t just happen overnight,” he said.
The ambition is ultimately to provide 20 new homes, housing 44 individuals.
‘We can address homeless, single men right away’
Erutse said the study made clear the community was experiencing a homelessness crisis.
“We decided to target that issue right away for men, single mothers, and families, to address their needs,” he said. “We know we can’t do it all at once, so we are going to take it in different phases and prioritize them. But we are committed to [the plan] and will follow through on it in the next fiscal year, for sure.”
After a feasibility study and review of building codes, KGHS made the decision to start work immediately on a transitional home for men “needing a safe, sober, supported environment.” The housing society will now work on solutions for other groups in need, such as a safe home for women and children.
Caesar said residents are welcome to stay for up to three years at the Kádúyı́le transitional home.
“It’s not like in the city where there are homes people can transition to,” he added. “There are literally no unused housing options in Fort Good Hope.
“Three years give us time to build new housing and develop the programs that can make these homes attainable for community members.”
In its 2020 strategic plan, KGHS reports the lack of housing “tends to fragment families and community ties … In addition, vulnerable residents returning from corrections or treatment programs do not have sufficient support in the community, often returning to unstable and unsafe situations.”
The plan states some in the community live with no power, nor plumbing, which can pose health and safety issues.
“Right now I think we’ve identified the needs and, based on the buildings we have right now, we can address the homeless, single men right away,” said Erutse.
“[The society] is trying to renovate another building so we can accommodate single mothers and families. We’re trying to address those needs and have those plans activated right away.”
Staffing, programming next steps
Caesar said the society will be working with the NWT Housing Corporation to apply for co-investment funding through the federal government.
The aim is to build four rental units that would operate under the same transitional housing program, then introduce integrated case management – a way of helping vulnerable people navigate many government departments that has won praise in Yellowknife.
“When someone moves into the Kádúyı́le Home, the resident agrees to develop a personal plan and the housing coordinator will help them to develop that plan,” said Caesar.
”Our team’s role is to support them in achieving their goals in any way we can, and also linking them with other resource people who can support them.”
The housing society is looking to hire a permanent staff member, but Caesar says staffing is challenging.
“We looked at trying to recruit someone to our community who would have the right mix of strong administrative skills, social work, and cultural sensitivity,” he said.
“In the end, we decided to invest in our own people and are finalizing contracts locally.”
The society will support the new hire by “building a strong training and professional development framework,” he said.
“In fact, we’ve had agreements in place with contractors to come in for at least one week, every two months, to offer training and mentorship.”
That includes individuals with expertise in traditional counselling. The society hopes to have its new employee shadow the GNWT’s integrated case management staff.
“The [GNWT] have been very helpful in our planning process so far and we have a lot to learn from them, in terms of how to facilitate service providers to work together to help an individual while respecting that individual’s privacy,” he said.
“We are really excited to create opportunities for our staff, and for other service providers in the community to learn new skills.”