Notes from the Field: Homeless in the Homeland

I was born and raised in Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories. In the last 10 years, the number of people without a stable place to live in my home community has grown. Yet, statistics from the few shelters in the territory, combined with data on core housing need, demonstrate that the experience of both visible and "hidden" forms of homelessness is shared by a significant number of northern people. One of the main objectives behind my doctoral research is to find out why. To do so in as comprehensive a way as possible, I've chosen to focus my study on three communities, from large to small: Yellowknife, Inuvik, and Paulatuk. Since March, I have conducted fieldwork in Inuvik, a small town of about 3,500 people on the Mackenzie Delta, just 100 kilometres from where the Mackenzie River opens up into the Beaufort Sea. It is a young community - 50 years old this year - and a meeting place for Gwich'in and Inuvialuit, both indigenous to the region, as well as relative newcomers from other parts of Canada and the world. Inuvik is a pretty community: colourfully painted row houses; scrappy spruce trees sprouting up from the muskeg; and ravens, the biggest you have ever seen, squawking from atop telephone poles and teasing yard dogs by stealing their food. I have been fortunate enough to hire a field assistant, a local high school student named Kate. Together, we conduct focus groups and in-depth interviews with people living homeless in the community, as well as others who provide services and advocacy to the homeless or work in relevant areas of government policy-making and program development. This morning, we are conducting a focus group with 12 homeless men living in the community. Kate and I introduce ourselves and go over the project, its objectives and the nature of the topics we will discuss.

Publication Date: 
Journal Name: 
McGill Reporter