Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, Your Standing Committee on Social Development is pleased to provide its Report on Homelessness Prevention: Supporting Pathways to Housing for NWT Residents, and commends it to the House.
Standing Committee on Social Development
Report On Homelessness Prevention
For many residents, home is a place of family, love and comfort. It's where people are connected to their cultures and communities. Importantly, a home must be affordable, structurally sound, and large enough for all members of the family. Many Indigenous peoples want homes that meet their cultural needs and land-based lifestyles. A home is not just a physical structure; it's a way of life, a source of support, and a place that meets your basic human needs. Yet, far too many people in the Northwest Territories do not have a home to call their own. Each person in the NWT deserves the dignity of a home. Through a culturally safe, coordinated all of territory approach, it is possible to prevent homelessness. A collective response requires all to step forward and work toward housing all community members.
Introduction: Homelessness Prevention
The Standing Committee on Social Development focused their study on homelessness prevention. Homelessness prevention refers to targeted policies, practices, and interventions that prevent a person from experiencing homelessness or reducing the risk of homelessness recurring. Homelessness prevention also provides the necessary resources and supports for those in need of stable housing and other integrated services as a pathway out of homelessness. Committee chose this lens and has made recommendations to prevent or reduce the number of NWT residents who may experience homelessness in the future, as well as to provide interventions for those who are currently experiencing homelessness.
"The very thought that our people in the small communities who do not have a roof over their heads and are going hungry is unfathomable in this day and age." - Ron Bonnetrouge, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Deh Cho
Understanding Experiences of Homelessness in the Northwest Territories
The NWT is facing an unprecedented housing crisis directly connected to a rising number of people experiencing homelessness throughout the territory. In 2015, the City of Yellowknife counted 139 individuals as experiencing homelessness. In 2021, the City of Yellowknife counted 312 individuals as experiencing homelessness. This is a 124 percent increase over six years. To hear directly from residents and community leadership throughout the territory on the issues contributing to the housing crisis and homelessness, committee traveled to three communities, hosted public hearings, invited written submissions, and posted an online survey. People were clear: There is a shortage of housing across the territory, there is not enough affordable housing, and of the housing units that do exist (both private and public) many are in major disrepair. As a result, residents are often faced with an impossible decision: live in unhealthy, abusive and/or overcrowded homes, or experience visible homelessness on the street or in a shelter.
Homelessness is experienced in different ways. Visible homelessness is commonly understood as people sleeping on the street, using emergency shelters or other crisis interventions. Hidden homelessness means that while a person may have a roof over their head, they do not have their own residence or any prospects of securing housing. Homelessness has been characterized as the personal failings of an individual. While it is important to understand individual causes and risk factors, it does not account for the social determinants of health that can increase or decrease the likelihood of experiencing homelessness. The social determinants of health include income, access to education, access to employment, food security, and housing to name a few. The inequities of Indigenous health are attributed to colonization and racism. Key determinants of Indigenous health are self-determination, de-colonization, and cultural continuity. Given half the NWT population is Indigenous, the causes and risk factors contributing to experiencing homelessness align with the legacy of colonization.
The impacts of homelessness included the loss of life; reduced life expectancy; substance abuse and addictions; exposure to violence; suicidal ideation; trauma; inability to secure employment; and increased vulnerability to illness and disease. In the NWT, the consequences of homelessness are deadly serious and life threatening. The pathways out of homelessness and toward homelessness prevention are multi-layered and achievable. They require housing, health, economic, and justice responses across the territory. Acts of reconciliation must be made to support the self-determination of Indigenous governments and peoples. Societal beliefs and attitudes must shift to honour housing as a human right. Through a culturally safe, coordinated all of territory approach, preventing homelessness is possible.
Committee puts forward this report and recommendations at a time of territorial, national, and global housing crises. The 19th Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories identified increasing the number of affordable homes and reducing core housing need as one of its priorities. Further, the Assembly's priority to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and the 2019 Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, affirms the rights, needs and priorities for Indigenous governments, groups and peoples.
Committee took two approaches to this report: A homelessness prevention approach (described above) and a trauma-informed approach. A trauma-informed approach recognizes a person holistically and acknowledges that a person may have or is currently experiencing trauma. One way that committee incorporated a trauma-informed approach is to center the voices of individuals and families with lived experience with homelessness.
From May to December 2022, more than 165 people came forward to give their perspectives on housing and homelessness. People engaged in community meetings, a private meeting with youth at Home Base YK, in-camera presentations, written submissions, and an anonymous survey (to protect confidentiality).
The recommendations put forward are intended to support pathways out of homelessness and towards being safely housed, as well as recommendations to prevent or reduce the experience of homelessness in the future.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends that Housing NWT establish a youth housing fund by the 2023-2024 fiscal year with sustainable, multi-year funding available to Indigenous governments and non-governmental organizations to purchase, operate and manage safe housing for children and youth in care.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends the Department of Health and Social Services create an Indigenous Child and Family Services Navigator position dedicated to youth who are aging out of care find stable housing and other supports.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends Municipal and Community Affairs lead an all-of-government approach to ensuring all children and youth have access to sports with increased funding, subsidies and vouchers for sports equipment and registration fees.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends that Housing NWT establish a women's housing fund by the 2023-2024 fiscal year that provides sustainable, multi-year funding to Indigenous governments and non-profit organizations to purchase, operate and manage housing for women and their children who are at risk of violence or have experienced violence.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends that the Department of Health and Social Services lead the development of 2SLGBTQIPA+ guidelines for emergency shelters, transitional housing, and non-profit organizations providing housing and homelessness prevention supports by the 2023-2024 fiscal year.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends that the Department of Justice increase funding to the Men's Healing Fund to support regional healing programs for the holistic health and well-being of men.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends that the Government of the Northwest Territories complete Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action Number 21 and secure substantive federal funding for an NWT Indigenous healing centre to support Indigenous individuals who have been harmed and/or traumatized by the Indian residential schools system, Sixties Scoop, and other acts of colonization.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends that the Department of Health and Social Services expedite the application, approval, and reporting requirement process of the On the Land Healing Fund to uphold Indigenous governments' and organizations' self-determination and ensure allocation of annual funds.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends that the Government of the Northwest Territories take an all-of-government approach to providing sustainable, multi-year funding for emergency shelters, transitional housing with wraparound sobriety and mental health supports, and supported living housing with managed alcohol and harm reduction programs.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends Housing NWT work with Indigenous governments and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to establish an Indigenous housing fund that will provide Indigenous governments and/or Indigenous non-governmental organizations financial support to purchase, operate, and manage housing aimed at Indigenous individuals and families.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends that the Government of the Northwest Territories work with Indigenous governments, architects, engineers, and other professionals to help develop a suite of Indigenous-led climate change responsive designs for emergency shelters, transitional housing, affordable housing, and housing for seniors and housing for those with disabilities.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends the Government of the Northwest Territories meet its commitment to develop an all of government Homelessness Prevention Strategy by April 2023.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends the Department of Education, Culture and Employment partner with the northern private sector, non-governmental organizations, and Indigenous governments to develop one-year lease agreements and rental assistance payments to accommodate private sector lease requirements to support housing partnerships and increase access to affordable housing.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends Housing NWT amend the collection policy and forgive any arrears up to $30,000 for Indian residential school survivors as an act of reconciliation before the end of the 19th Assembly.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends Housing NWT implement the principles of the collection policy and develop a strategy by the 2023-2024 fiscal year to forgive arrears that cannot be collected despite demonstrated effort.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends Housing NWT eradicate the residency policy and update the public housing point rating system with community membership as an additional factor with corresponding points and significant weight.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends Housing NWT develop a first right of refusal clause in leasing agreements to ensure family members of tenants receive the first opportunity to lease a public housing unit before the unit goes to market.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends the Government of the Northwest Territories provide a response to this report in 120 days.
This report and recommendations were written to honour the voices of NWT residents and provide meaningful recommendations for pathways out of homelessness and towards housing NWT residents. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.