Money raised from downtown Yellowknife parking meters is being used to fund jobs for the city’s homeless people.

A program called Common Ground employs up to eight people daily to help keep the city clean, collecting garbage strewn downtown or on Yellowknife’s trails.

The program’s pilot phase began on May 14. The $100,000 budget for its first five months comes directly from downtown parking revenue, city councillor Adrian Bell told Cabin Radio.

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Each morning, program coordinator Michael Fatt goes out to find people experiencing homelessness who would like to sign up. Shifts last five to six hours and in return workers earn the minimum wage, $13.46 per hour.

Workers are paid every two weeks and can either cash their cheques or receive assistance in setting up a bank account for direct deposits.

‘The bigger picture’

Bell, drawing inspiration from similar programs in Victoria and Winnipeg, successfully lobbied for Common Ground to be included in 2017’s municipal budget – but the City could not find a contractor to manage the project at the time.

This year, the Yellowknife Women’s Society has stepped forward.

“We’ve had a lot of enthusiasm from the crew members so far. It’s going well. We’re hoping we can build public enthusiasm,” said Bree Denning, executive director of the society.

“Michael goes out every morning to meet with the crew. He’s responsible for signing up new folks and making sure we have a crew. If someone comes one day a week or two days a week, we try to work around that. At the same time, full-time is an option as well. It’s quite flexible.

“The shorter shifts help people meet other needs, and we hope to incorporate trips to the new Indigenous wellness centre [opened last month behind the city’s fieldhouse] to provide our folks with a chance to centre themselves and see their work in the bigger picture.”

Common Ground workers clear garbage from a Yellowknife trail
Common Ground workers clear garbage from a Yellowknife trail. Photo: Michael Fatt

Beyond the program’s initial funding, Denning hopes local businesses will help to sponsor Common Ground.

“We are having signs made to be in place wherever crews are working, to give people a heads-up and notify people, and offer sponsorship opportunities if businesses are interested in having their logo on those signs,” she said.

Attracting more sponsors could lead to workers’ salaries increasing to something resembling a living wage, Denning hopes.

In a news release, the City of Yellowknife said the program will provide “cultural and wellness support to those impacted by homelessness and marginalization [and] will give participants an opportunity to reconnect to the land.”

Mayor Mark Heyck said: “Hiring street-involved residents is one of the many ways we can address homelessness. Council and administration are dedicated to finding fair and equitable ways of supporting some of our most marginalized people.”