NWT shelters gather to share ideas on homelessness

NWT shelters gather to share ideas on homelessness
Representatives from homeless shelters across the NWT gather in Yellowknife to learn about a new software system as well as share ideas and best practices.Photo: Dayle Hernblad.

For the first time, shelter agencies from across the NWT were in the same room sharing ideas on best practices to meet the challenges of homelessness in Canada’s North.

The Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition (YHC) hosted a workshop and demonstration to introduce shelter agencies from Tuktoyaktuk to Fort Smith to a computer-based tracking system in Yellowknife last Thursday.

Called the “Homeless Individuals and Families Information System” (HIFIS), the computer software was developed by the federal government to track who’s using what shelters when.

Dayle Hernblad, coordinator with the YHC and organizer of the workshop, said while Yellowknife shelters have been successfully using HIFIS for years, ideally the system will be adopted across the territory.

Hernblad said NWT shelters face unique challenges such as cold weather, higher numbers of addictions and other social issues, as well as isolation experienced by a large chunk of the population. Adopting the HIFIS system will hopefully shed some light on areas of concern so work can begin on solutions, she said.

“(HIFIS) keeps data and history and helps us to basically understand homelessness and the use of shelters by different populations, different ages and different genders,” Hernblad said.

The software is offered free of charge to sheltering agencies by the federal government. A representative was in Yellowknife for the workshop to give a demonstration on using the program.

NWT shelters often overwhelmed

Until now, the territory’s shelters have not been able to arrange for the software because of capacity issues and high staff turnover, Hernblad said.

Speaking for the Yellowknife shelters, she said they are constantly faced with training new staff who don’t necessarily stick around when a more attractive salary is offered. The problem is exacerbated by Yellowknife’s higher-than-average cost of living.

Beyond sharing the technology, the workshop last week gave shelter agencies the opportunity to discuss problems such as staffing, a giant leap forward for communication and collaboration in the territory, Herbland said.

The GNWT also sent representatives to participate in the workshop and join in the dialogue.

Optimism for change growing in Yellowknife

Hernblad said there appears to be a renewed air of optimism when it comes to addressing homelessness in Canada.

National discussion has been growing about the success of a transformational housing model called Housing First. The new model rapidly moves homeless individuals into houses, a change from the former model that has individuals moved slowly through a step-by-step system towards permanent housing.

Projects like Betty House – currently under construction in Yellowknife – that provide immediate transitional housing for homeless individuals is building excitement in the city as the project moves closer to opening this spring, Hernblad said.

“We, because of our unique challenges in the North, are strongly encouraged (to use the model),” she said.

“Certainly it feels like in Yellowknife anyway that there is a renewed excitement or belief that we can affect change.”

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