City of Yellowknife staff and volunteers on Sunday completed a fresh count of people experiencing homelessness in the city. The results are expected to help illuminate Covid-19’s impact.
The count surveys individuals staying in shelters, using short-term housing, or sleeping rough to estimate how many people are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Yellowknife performed similar counts in 2015 and 2018.
Councillor Stacie Smith, former chair of the city’s Community Advisory Board on Homelessness, said the data helps people working with vulnerable populations understand who they are serving.
“It helps a lot of the non-profit organizations figure out the cracks in the system,” Smith said. “What are we missing? Where can we start not overlapping on services, but connecting?”
This time, Yellowknife’s survey is part of a coordinated effort in more than 60 communities across Canada using a federally provided template.
In 2018, 338 people experiencing homelessness were counted. At the time, 98 percent of respondents identified as Indigenous and 68 percent had moved from smaller communities to Yellowknife.
Forty-two percent were 24 years old or younger. Of those, 104 were children under the age of 18.
The most common causes of homelessness reported in 2018 were unaffordable housing and low income. People reported the inability to pay rent or mortgages, problems with addiction and substance use, conflict with a spouse or partner, and job loss.
With Covid-19 exacerbating many of those issues, Smith said this year’s results are difficult to predict.
“It’s really going to let us know where we stand, especially with Covid being what it is, all the preventative measures we’ve put in place, and the secondary shelter that was put in,” she said.
“If we see an increase, there’s something that we’re missing – and we really need to observe that.”
The results will be made public by July or August, according to the city.
Same issues persist
Tammy Roberts, executive director of youth non-profit SideDoor agreed the results will be hard to anticipate.
“Covid-19 affects a lot of things. Maybe one of the factors to consider is the effect on mental health and addiction. Homelessness is a direct result of that,” Roberts said.
“I think everybody is being pushed to the limit. Even the fact that you can’t access services because of Covid is affecting people’s mental health.”
Roberts said the counts help groups like SideDoor by providing tangible numbers organizations can use to apply for funding and other supports.
However, she said, data collection alone won’t solve the lack of affordable housing in the city. SideDoor has 10 youth waiting for a place to live.
“There’s just nothing,” Roberts said.
“Not all youth have a family. Not all youth have people they can rely on to help them with their housing needs when they’re in their young twenties or late teens.”
Families affected, too
The YWCA NWT has around 50 families on its waitlist and receives more inquiries every week.
“When you look at most of the write-ups on homelessness, you don’t hear family homelessness,” said Kate Wilson, the YWCA NWT’s director of housing.
“They see single women, they see single men, they see people out there, but they don’t realize there are families sleeping on couches, in closets, and on the floor in people’s houses, because it’s not visible.”
Wilson said as many families as possible are surveyed but point-in-time counts – by their nature, a snapshot of a short period – will never capture the full scale of the issue.
In January, the organization issued a statement “sounding the alarm” on the territory’s housing crisis and its impact on youth and families.
“We’ve been housing families for many, many years, and it hasn’t gone away,” Wilson said. “We have about 90-plus families, we did about the same last year, and we did about the same the previous year.”