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Rural Migration and Homelessness in the North

Starting Date: 
April, 2012
1 year
RRU Researchers: 
Young, Michael
Human Resources & Social Development Canada

Homelessness is generally regarded as a recent phenomenon in the Northwest Territories (NWT). Since the late 1990s, emergency shelters in urbanizing northern centres such as Yellowknife and Inuvik have reported a steady increase in use, representing a rise in absolute, or ‘visible’, homelessness. Significantly, the vast majority of homeless men and women in both communities are Aboriginal. Yet despite recent studies that have drawn attention to homelessness in the territorial North, there remains a significant need for research in this area. In particular, the migration of rural populations to regional centres and the nexus between homelessness, addictions, and mental health problems, remain poorly understood, as does the need for, and availability of, services required by these persons.

While the city of Yellowknife continues to be the focus of territorial government-led interventions surrounding homelessness, Inuvik tends to be disregarded as a significant recipient of homeless persons from outlying communities, and in the production of northern homelessness. However, as the administrative, economic, and governance centre of the Beaufort-Delta region, as well as the most northernly point on the Dempster Highway, Inuvik is a receiving centre for many people who are homeless, or vulnerable to homelessness, who also suffer from addictions and mental health problems. As well, Inuvik is the hub of the burgeoning petroleum industry in the Canadian Arctic, a status that has consequences in terms of increased competition for housing and associated negative social impacts.

Community groups in Inuvik have cited specific concerns regarding the role of poor mental health in local homelessness. Indeed, some groups suggest that gaps in the mental health services and the paucity of effective addictions treatment play a very critical role in generating and perpetuating homelessness among northern men and women. Moreover, local service providers have observed that intergenerational trauma – the historical transmission of the negative effects of colonization across generations – plays a critical role in homelessness in the region. 

In direct response to community-identified research needs, this project seeks to examine the role that substance abuse and mental health problems play in individuals’ pathways to homelessness in Inuvik. This ‘action-oriented’ project aims to assess the current addictions and mental health support needs of homeless men and women in Inuvik and surrounding communities, and subsequently, to develop a proposal for supportive housing initiatives that addresses those needs. Our research aim is premised on the understanding that supportive resources for substance abuse and mental health needs are dependent on cultural, economic, and geographical context. Models for northern culturally appropriate supportive housing are currently lacking.