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MP: feds likely to aid city's homeless plan

Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod, shown at a homelessness funding announcement Friday at city hall, said in an interview his Liberal government will be 'one of the key investors' for the city's plan to end homelessness. Shane Magee/NNSL photo

Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod says he expects his government will be “one of the key investors” of the city's upcoming plan to end homelessness.

A city-contracted consultant is expected to present a 10-year plan to end homelessness to city council in June. Preliminary estimates given to council in April indicate the plan could cost up to $147.1 million over 10 years to implement, mainly funded by the federal and territorial governments.

McLeod said he spoke with the city's consultant Friday morning about her work and plans to get further updates as the city's plan is refined. However, he said he wasn't familiar with the financial figures involved.

“I totally expect that the federal government is going to have to be a player in this, I expect it will be one of the key investors in making it happen,” he said in an interview Friday. “I'm sure that's something we're willing to do. How much and for how long – that's detail we have to work out.”

Consultant Alina Turner told councillors in April the multi-million-dollar figure would cover construction of 240 new affordable housing units, rent support for 127 units, a rapid rehousing program, expansion of a case management system, construction and operation of 80 permanent supportive housing units in a single facility and 80 more in buildings throughout the city. Construction costs would account for $50.9 million while the remainder would be the cost to run the programs.

Turner's early research estimate the city has more than 1,500 people who are homeless at times. Of those, about 70 to 80 per cent are believed to be people who experience short-term bouts, perhaps due to a job loss. Then 15 to 10 per cent are "episodically" homeless, which means they need support more frequently. The remaining five to 10 per cent are those considered "chronically" homeless, living in a shelter or on the street.

Those city defines “ending” homelessness as reducing the average person's stay in a homeless shelter to 14 days or less by 2027, with ultimately no one living on the street or in a shelter longer than two weeks without access to housing and support services.

Minister not impressed with federal funding

Caroline Cochrane, the territorial cabinet minister responsible for homelessness and the NWT Housing Corporation, expressed doubt about the figures in a recent interview, saying there was a miscalculation regarding the number of single people who are homeless.

She said she thinks it's wonderful the city is producing the plan, which flowed from an April 2016 meeting she organized that brought various groups together to discuss ways to deal with homelessness in the city.

“As the government of the Northwest Territories, we're willing to support them however we can, within our means of course,” said Cochrane.

When asked if the territorial government will commit to spend more for the plan, she responded the government will look at it once it is complete.

“We are putting money into homelessness every year,” Cochrane said. “We will be working with the City of Yellowknife for its 10-year plan. So we will be allocating funding toward that plan. Will we allocate the whole $147 million? That I cannot say. For one, I'm not even sure where that figure is coming from.”

The 2017 federal budget included $300 million for housing in the territories over 11 years, though only $36 million of that is for this territory.

“It was a little disappointing actually when the figure came out,” she said. “It sounds good when you put it all in one (figure) but it certainly doesn't sound as nice when you break it down into what it means over 11 years.”

The money will be spread out across the territory over those 11 years, so it's not likely to result in a huge increase in housing units in the city. She pointed out one unit of public housing costs about $22,500 on average per year.

She plans to arrange a meeting with federal officials to “see what we can do to address” the federal funding. That trip is still being arranged, according to cabinet spokesperson Andrew Livingstone.

McLeod touted his government when the budget was released.

“I am very happy to see the additional investment of $36 million in housing for the Northwest Territories,” he stated in a news release.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green stated in an e-mail that the federal funding is inadequate for the territory.

“What is required is a commitment to spend on infrastructure other than roads,” she stated. “Even before there is a plan to pay for an all-weather road to Whati, the government is working on another road to the Slave Geological Province. Where are people supposed to live while waiting for the resource extraction economy to rebound?”