This week we have two seemingly separate stories about Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler inquiring about two seemingly separate subjects — the plans to expand Aurora College into a fully Polytechnic University and the GNWT’s Homelessness Strategy.
In one, Semmler asks why introductory classes in trades, such as welding, carpentry, automotive mechanics and similar subjects have slowly been disappearing at the Inuvik campus. In the other, she asks how far along the Homelessness Strategy is, noting the Inuvik Warming Centre nearly dissolved in October.
These are of course two very large programs under two separate ministries, but frankly they’re two sides of the same problem. The GNWT can’t expect to solve homelessness if it only looks at the end-results of the process. It needs to provide lifelines at every stage of the way.
It has been well documented that treating addictions becomes significantly easier when the underlying causes of the addiction, which almost always includes the stress of getting through the day, are addressed. A person who has a roof over their head and meaningful employment is far more capable of addressing their behaviour than someone who doesn’t know where they are sleeping or where their next meal is coming from.
The GNWT needs to take a more holistic approach to how it approaches and funds these initiatives. Education is the key to empowering individuals who may not feel in control of their lives.
Even getting a basic start in something simple, like a trade or even a so-called “unskilled” labour position, can be the catalyst someone needs to start turning their life around, and the opportunities presented from a little education are enormous.
Say someone takes an introduction to the Electrician Trade — opening the door to jobs working on everything from construction projects to residential wiring. A person with a certificate could then apply for work across the territory, not only making some cash but perhaps escaping other negative influences they might not be able to avoid living where they are. The effects of peer pressure, repetition and other stimulus on a person’s addictions are well established.
If our current government is serious about combating homelessness, and I’m sure it is, it needs to give its residents the means to work their way out of poverty. That means keeping achievable goals within reach. As great as a Polytechnic university will be for the territory, no one is going from being homeless with less than a high-school education to earning a degree in an academic subject without a few stepping stones along the way.
But trades are an accessible escape for people who may have fallen into the poverty trap. Most of the math needed can be learned on the job and the practical applications of knowing how to wire something, carve something, repair something or build something instils a sense of self-worth that snowballs into further self development.
Government is a hydra-headed organization and often one head seems to be oblivious to what the other is doing. But if we can look at how each department enhances the other, we can find workable solutions with the resources available. The GNWT should prioritize making adult education accessible to anyone in Inuvik, especially for those living on the streets. Such programming would pay for itself in no time.