Housing and Homelessness in the Tłı̨chǫ Region

This research has multi-fold objectives:

  1. To assess the scope of the current housing and homelessness problem in the Tłı̨chǫ region
  2. To analyze the housing policies of the Tłı̨chǫ government and the Government of Northwest Territories (GNWT)
  3. To determine root causes of housing and homelessness issues in the region; and
  4. To identify best practices and recommend effective strategies or solutions to the housing and homelessness issues

Anecdotally, the housing crisis in the Tłı̨chǫ region is not new. While visible homelessness was largely uncommon in Northwest Territories prior to the later 1990s, since then, it has steadily increased (Christensen, 2016). Recently, this issue has received considerable local and national media coverage (Mandeville, 2016a, 2016b, 2016c), and the Chiefs of the Tłı̨chǫ Government have also repeatedly asked the GNWT to take necessary steps to resolve the housing issues. To impress upon the GNWT the severity of the situation, the Tłı̨chǫ Government has now recognized the need to document the extent of the issue in a systematic fashion, which is the impetus for this research project. Thus, this study is intended to act as a building block to developing a Tłı̨chǫ housing and homelessness strategy.

According to NWT’s 2016 census, the Tłı̨chǫ has just over 700 private households with almost half having four or more persons. Just about half of all the households rent their homes from the GNWT. Many of the Tłı̨chǫ households suffer from the problems of housing affordability (household spends more than 30% of the income on shelter), adequacy (housing in need of major repairs) and suitability (not enough bedrooms leading to overcrowding) problems.

Canadian urban planning and geography literature covers various aspects of providing affordable housing for indigenous families living in inner city areas of Canadian cities (Walker, 2003, 2006; Deane and Smoke, 2010; Alaazi, Masuda, Evans and Distasio, 2015; Anderson and Collins, 2014). Only a few have looked at housing in the First Nations communities in the North. In particular, Christensen (2016) made a connection between housing, home and health among Indigenous homeless people living in the Canadian North. She contended that the conceptualization of Northern Indigenous homes and, in turn, health issues are not only unrecognized in housing policy, but actively discouraged.

Christensen (2013) argued that “Indigenous homelessness across settler colonial contexts is a multi-scalar phenomenon.” She suggested it occurred because of a collective experience of “disbelonging,” resulting from the settler colonial project. As well, a very individual experience of literally “being without secure shelter” exacerbated this (p 84-85). In regards to public housing and their inadequacy in the North, Christensen (2016) attributed the current state to the following factors:

  • Multiple housing authorities with different and at times conflicting mandates
  • Phasing out of government support— new federal funding has been announced but enough to build only 300 homes in the First Nations communities while the demand is of 20,000 new homes (Akin, 2016)
  • An escalating crackdown on rental arrears and increased surveillance of tenants and their guests, resulting in evictions
  • Public housing as the only source of low-income housing, which is in short supply

She called out the need for a culturally safe approach to housing policy aimed at alleviating homelessness—one that not only fulfills core housing needs, but also recognizes the particularities of an Indigenous approach to homemaking, which relies largely on family bonds.

Homelessness and overcrowding are growing issues in all the four Tłı̨chǫ communities – Behchokǫ̀, Gamètì, Wekweètì and Whatì. According to a recent 10 year Plan to End Homelessness report by the City of Yellowknife (2017), many of the homeless on the streets of Yellowknife are residents of the Tłı̨chǫ region, specifically, in the Behchokǫ̀ community. A Core Housing Need measures whether a household experiences one or more of three defined housing problems: adequacy, suitability, or affordability. Core Housing Need, particularly in its most extreme instances, is a form of hidden homelessness. The Tłı̨chǫ communities have especially pressing and prominent gaps in their housing needs as they are currently not adequate (over 40%), not suitable (27.5%), and not affordable (12.5%). Further, core housing needs are not met for 45% of this group. Behchokǫ̀ has the highest core housing need in the entire NWT.