Yellowknife’s community advisory board on homelessness is looking to spend emergency federal cash on provision of more on-the-land programming for the city’s most vulnerable residents.
The city has almost $1.7 million in federal Covid-19 funding related to homelessness that must be spent in the coming months.
The advisory board, whose decisions must be approved by city council, has already allocated $784,000 to a wage top-up for groups that provide services, coverage of people’s rental arrears, leasing of YWCA units, and expansion of the Somba K’e Park’s opening hours.
The board is now proposing to spend much of the remaining $885,000 on initiatives that its chair, Councillor Stacie Smith, believes will provide an innovative approach.
Smith told Cabin Radio the advisory board is proposing to fund activities like an on-the-land breakfast program provided by the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation and a separate on-the-land program and community hunt organized by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
Councillors had earlier asked for the money to be spent on more permanent housing solutions, but Smith said the conditions attached to the funding by Ottawa made that unrealistic.
“This emergency funding has to be spent within a specific time frame,” Smith said. “To try to acquire a permanent solution within the time frame was near-impossible: procuring a building, finding an NGO to facilitate and take care of the building, was a tight timeline we just couldn’t meet.”
Smith said the emergency funding is “extra money on top of the funding we get yearly” and while it can’t open up permanent solutions, it can allow the city to try new approaches.
“I think the avenues we’ve investigated have opened a door to where a lot of NGOs would like to go in future, especially looking at an on-the-land program. I’ve never heard of us doing that. It’s huge, it’s absolutely huge,” Smith said.
“We really feel on-the-land programming is something people are looking for. About 90 percent of our vulnerable population are Indigenous and they’re looking for that approach, rather than what they’ve been receiving thus far.”
Smith said the funding would allow groups to set up camps for vulnerable people on the land and teach activities like trapping.
A precise breakdown of the $885,000 allocated by the advisory board last week will come before council later this month.
Council has already examined the earlier $784,000 allocation, which included $300,000 to cover rental arrears, a $320,000 wage top-up fund, $109,200 for YWCA unit leases, and $55,000 in washroom operating costs.
The advisory board is also working out how to spend the larger, regular federal homelessness funding package for 2021-22. Smith said that was set to include Housing First funding for youth, families and single adults.