“They want a different life”: Rural northern settlement dynamics and pathways to homelessness in Yellowknife and Inuvik, Northwest Territories

Visible homelessness in the Northwest Territories, Canada is often described as a recent phenomenon by policy makers and the popular media alike. Indeed, since the late 1990s, homeless shelters in Yellowknife and Inuvik report a steady increase in demand for beds and other support for homeless people. Homelessness in these two communities disproportionately affects Aboriginal northerners, however little is known about their individual pathways to homelessness. Moreover, homelessness in the Northwest Territories is often portrayed as an issue confined to larger “urbanizing” regional centres, yet many homeless Aboriginal northerners have originated from small, rural settlement communities. Despite this, little concern has been paid to how factors at the small community level intersect with more visible forms of homelessness in larger, urban centres, not to mention how these intersections shape a territorial geography of homelessness. In this article, I aim to uncover and explore the often hidden factors at the northern rural settlement level that ultimately contribute to more visible forms of homelessness in northern urban centres. I suggest that uneven and fragmented social, institutional, and economic geographies result in a unique landscape of vulnerability to homelessness in the Northwest Territories. This geography emerges through the production of particular dynamics between rural settlement communities and northern urban centres. In particular, four main factors represent these rural-urban dynamics: 1) the attractions of opportunity in northern urban centres; 2) rural settlement-urban institutional flows; 3) chronic housing need in the settlements; and, 4) disintegrating social relationships in the settlements. I explore the particular ways in which these factors influence rural-urban migration among the homeless population and what roles this mobility plays in individual pathways to homelessness.

Publication Date: 
Early View
Journal Name: 
The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien
Yellowknife; Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada