Two housing advocate groups are calling for the cancellation of all arrears currently owed by Indigenous people in the NWT, the dissolution of Housing NWT and a State of Emergency in the Northwest Territories based on he number of unhoused Indigenous women in the territory.
National Indigenous Housing Network (NIHN) and Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network released the joint declaration Feb. 24, calling for the crown corporation to be replaced or overseen by an independent group of Indigenous advisors.
“We are demanding that Housing NWT release all control over housing units and illusory lease agreements in the north and take direction from a delegated nonpartisan group of Indigenous advisors from each region of the NWT,” read the joint statement. “This group of Indigenous advisors would oversee all of Housing NWT’s decisions going forward, including directing that arrears be erased for Indigenous Peoples living in their own territory on their own lands by assertion of Aboriginal rights and title and through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Women and children are being evicted from their homes as we speak without anywhere else to go or are being placed in such precarious housing units that are causing them to fall severely ill. Adequate housing is a human right under the new National Housing Strategy Act. This human right must be upheld by the government that is supposed to be serving Indigenous Peoples first and foremost as it is their obligation under a standard of care. However, this cannot be achieved by the government of the day or by any government before it for that matter. Therefore, we call for the dissolution of NWT Housing.”
Citing similar transfers to Indigenous governments as examples, the release also calls for the purchase of 70 off-grid homes, which the release says would be collapsible, movable and could be provided to communities based on need.
“The hope for solutions can no longer be placed in the hands of an irresponsible government without the implicit guidance of Indigenous Northerners,” says the release. “The purchase of 70 off-grid expandable, collapsible, and moveable homes ranging in size to be delivered to all 33 NWT communities based on housing priority is not too much to ask and could have come out of the $60 million that was allocated to Housing NWT to alleviate housing need.
“There is no time for political debate on this matter. The Minister of Housing has been placed in a position where she has no power, or capacity to alleviate the housing crisis therefore this must be taken to the next level of necessary emergency measures to ensure that Indigenous Peoples are no longer left out in the cold.”
Inuvik shelter operations up for grabs
This all comes as Housing NWT is seeking to offload operations of the Inuvik Warming Shelter and Inuvik Homeless Shelter.
Minister responsible for Housing NWT Paulie Chinna confirmed the GNWT’s intention during an exchange in the legislature with Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland, who inquired about differences in the budget.
Noting the shelters cost nearly $3 million in 2022-23, Cleveland inquired why Housing NWT had allotted $560,000 for the Inuvik shelters in 2023-24.
Chinna said the GNWT had taken over the shelters amid an existential emergency but had no intention to run them long term.
“For me, this is a one off,” she said. “I don’t want to see Housing coming back and administering and taking over shelters. This was an emergency that had happened in Inuvik, and we just did not have any NGOs, nobody to step up and take over the responsibility.
“But this did not only have to do with funding. This had to do with the training. This had to do with the staffing. This had to do with what was actually being dealt with at the ground level. Safety was a major issue. We did end up having a fire in Inuvik as well too. We did end up losing one of our warming shelters. We had this put out for an RFP, and we had no submissions. We had no interest. And what were we to be doing in Inuvik, and we needed to step in. We had a couple of deaths that had happened during that time as well too with people freezing. This was an emergency, and Housing had to step in.”
China said the GNWT has since spoken to interested parties and is seeking to return control of the two shelters to one of them with a budget of $560,000 a year, returning to the model the GNWT uses for the Salvation Army, the Hay River shelter, the Fort Simpson shelter, the YWCA and the Yellowknife Women’s Society.
Cleveland noted when she was last in Inuvik she was told repeatedly the community needs help operating the two shelters.
“They are acknowledging that it is more expensive than they had originally anticipated running a shelter so they’re stepping out. When the committee travelled to Inuvik, we heard firsthand from people that it is not realistic to expect an NGO in small communities to find third-party funding in order to operate a shelter. And the original contract that went out had an expectation that NGOs went and sourced their own funding to make it work. And so I find this very frustrating and very unrealistic.
“You have about $600,000 for each shelter to work with. It’s not enough money to operate shelters notwithstanding the point either that that means we’ve got Inuvik, Yellowknife, Fort Simpson. We have 33 communities, and we have a housing crisis. We have overcrowding. We have 900 people on the waitlist. From those 900 people on the waitlist, we have another 487 people who have arrears that wouldn’t qualify to put their name on a waitlist. We have an issue here where we do not have the housing that the Northwest Territories require. We do not have the housing to keep people alive. And so turning around and putting in $3 million to keep people alive is not realistic.”
Housing NWT took over operations of the Inuvik Warming Shelter and the Inuvik Homeless Shelter in May 2021 from two non-profit societies. The Inuvik Warming Shelter society has since dissolved.