The Yellowknife version of a trendy national strategy to help ease the homelessness crisis is in peril of proving its critics correct.

Those who would dismiss a program that injected homeless people into housing alongside tenants paying partial or full freight as a dangerous form of social engineering were given fuel for their fight recently in the pages of Yellowknifer.

A number of tenants at Crestview Apartment building told Yellowknifer they were frustrated with what they saw as deteriorating conditions since residents from Housing First moved in last year (“Crestview tenants express anger over trashed building,” Nov. 1).

The Housing First concept was first popularized a decade ago in large urban centres in the United States. The idea is that people first need a roof over their head before they can rebuild their lives.

Yellowknife’s Housing First, which began last year, costs about $450,000 a year to run, according to Yellowknife Women’s Society, which runs the program on behalf of the City of Yellowknife.

Kimberly Paul and her 11-year-old son Dylan Paul reside in one of the building’s units downtown.

Housing First clients are not respecting the building or the people who live in it, Paul said.

Equally disturbing is the fact her son talks of disturbing situations he encounters.

“People fighting, people urinating, smoking,” he said. “It makes me mad because the families who live here have to pick up their garbage. It’s disgusting.”

The tenants Yellowknifer interviewed do understand the need for the Housing First initiative – which matches private landlords with homeless people – but stated the Yellowknife Women’s Society is not listening to the concerns of other tenants.

“I asked their executive director why they didn’t integrate these people into their living conditions before just dropping them anywhere,” said a woman who asked not to be named. “Why didn’t they let the existing tenants know just who was coming into their building?”

Tenants suggest Housing First would be better taking over an entire block, instead of mixing and matching clients with the rent-paying community. They also accuse the women’s society of not offering any solutions to the problems it created.

Unfortunately, moving Housing First tenants all into one building would lead to other problems, such as the ghettoization experienced in larger cities in past decades. Sprawling public housing projects don’t provide much of a hopeful scenario for improving lives.

What needs to happen is for well-meaning organizations such as the women’s society, and the City of Yellowknife, which funds the program, to be fully-prepared to deal with the negative aspects of potentially positive programs such as Housing First. That includes providing an avenue for people to complain and responding when there are complaints.

To leave them to RCMP or landlords to deal with is to invite criticism that the program is not being managed properly.

That said, landlords need to look beyond the allure of some quick government money and be ready to evict troublesome Housing First clients. With police standing by if necessary.

While there surely are some model clients, the Housing First program must ensure it’s ready to shoulder the responsibility that comes along with the type of social engineering it is engaged in,

lest Yellowknife’s Housing First program tumble like a house of cards.

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