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Homeless strategy

YK groups band together for grassroots solution

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 09/01) - Myna Maniapik was once regional co-ordinator for the South Baffin regional negotiating team. She sat across federal negotiators in the last days before finalizing the Nunavut land claim agreement in 1999.

Two years later she was homeless, living with her daughter at the YWCA in Yellowknife.

The professional translator from Pangnirtung fell into an abusive relationship which unravelled her life.

She quit her job as a translator for the Government of the Northwest Territories because of stress and when she left her partner she had no home to go to.

" I never thought I would get back to my old self," says Maniapik.

"I ended up here," she says referring to the YWCA.

"There are people out there caught in the same situation," she says.

Yellowknife has a homeless problem. It doesn't have the same face as it does in warmer cities with the cardboard boxes, the shopping carts, the park benches.

Here they're the hidden homeless. They live from couch to couch or hole up in overcrowded apartments with relatives and friends, but they're homeless just the same. According to some sources there are one bedroom apartments with up to 15 people living together.

There are an estimated 200 adults and 40 to 70 youths who are homeless in Yellowknife.

Bobbi Bulmer, manager for the North Slave Housing Corporation which provides housing for aboriginals, says she's seen homeless rates rise in Yellowknife.

"There's been a little increase from last year," she says.

She says the tight rental market in Yellowknife is making homeless out of working people.

"I think a lot of singles can't afford market rent," she says. "A lot work but can't afford market rents."

Currently there are 19 families on the waiting list to get into North Slave Housing Corporation's 75 units.

The Yellowknife Housing Authority did not release its wait list numbers.

For years Yellowknife's community organizations have plugged holes here and there, mending the cracks, scooping people out before they disappear. Until now it's just been Band-Aid solutions and the problem keeps getting wider.

"We want to make a real difference," says Capt. Karen Hoeft of the Salvation Army.

"We want holistic solutions," she says.

The Salvation Army along with other groups like the YWCA, the Side Door, the Tree of Peace, the Yellowknife Women's shelter, the NWT Council for the disabled along with municipal and territorial levels of government have formed a coalition to hash out ways to deal with homelessness.

The coalition is currently conducting community interviews and grassroots research to come up with a long range homeless strategy and tap into $700,000 that is available from the federal government's Department of Labour and Homelessness.

The coalition has until the end of the month to submit a plan to access the funds.

Lyda Fuller, chief executive officer for the YWCA, says the plan will paint a clear picture of the city's homeless problem.

"We want to get a handle on the situation," says Fuller.

"We're getting a picture of reality, not just what we think reality is," she said.

Yellowknife Mayor Gord Van Tighem says homeless is on his front burner. He says the city's role is to help facilitate strategies that come down the pipe and offer whatever support groups need.

"It's here in the city," says Van Tighem, referring to homelessness. The city has to support people that are here...you can't work to the exclusion of one group."

For Maniapik her experience brings with it a happy ending. She recently landed a job with the Government of Nunavut in Kugluktuk as a translator. She is moving there sometime this month.