A draft of the GNWT’s Homelessness Strategy was released on March 30, but the National Indigenous Housing Network (NIHN), based in the NWT, expressed concerned that the approach would not be enough to address the problems Indigenous peoples are facing.
NIHN called for a housing state of emergency and demanded that NWT Housing hand over control of all of its housing agreements to a non-partisan group of Indigenous advisers from each region of the NWT. The Indigenous housing network accuses NWT Housing of taking “the blind eye approach” to housing issues in Indigenous communities, alleging that women and children are being evicted with no place to go and are also being placed in poor housing, which causes them to become ill.
Paulie Chinna, minister of Housing, said via email on March 23 that a state of emergency is declared during a natural disaster, civil unrest, armed conflict, medical pandemic or epidemic, or other biosecurity risk, which allows the government implement policies that it wouldn’t normally be permitted to.
“In this case, Housing NWT is making policy and program changes, guided by its mandate and renewal strategy, to address the territory’s housing crisis,” Chinna said. She added that Housing NWT is working on a multi-year plan to deliver 510 housing units, 60 of which are currently under construction in remote communities. Between 2020 and 2021, $25.5 million was allocated for their construction from the National Housing Co-Investment Fund (NHCF) and a further $25 million from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC).
Katlia Lafferty, co-chair of NIHN, said that the programs listed in the GNWT’s homelessness strategy work for some people but not everyone.
“Most of the programs do not offer secure, safe, affordable homes for those most vulnerable — that is Indigenous women and girls, which is not even mentioned in the strategy,” she said.
Lisa Thurber, community advocate and founder of Tenants Association NWT, also condemned the strategy.
“This strategy does not address our issues,” she said. “It does promise to form another office to address homelessness. Apparently, the current office with staff and Housing NWT minister (Chinna)… is not capable of dealing with the homelessness, other than approving and denying applications.”
NIHN said in its news release that Chinna was powerless in her position as minister. Lafferty provided context.
“Like most ministers, they are often inundated with paperwork and debates in the house with lofty speeches while their deputies and staff are doing most of the decision-making,” she said. “Often that staff is non-Indigenous with no real understanding of culturally relevant and historical Northern insight into the landscape (or the problems) we are dealing with.”
The Homelessness Strategy, which is seeking public feedback, is expected to be complete in summer 2023.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated who NIHN feels should oversee the NWT Housing Corporation's responsibility for housing agreements.