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Eileen Koe has been living in a canvas tent since Aug. 10, after being told she had to live in Yellowknife to stay on the list for social housing. - Christine Grimard/NNSL photo

Family forced to live at campsite

Christine Grimard
Northern News Services
Published Friday, August 17, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - A woman is living with her children in a tent at Fred Henne Park while she waits to hear when they'll be given a home.

Eileen Koe and her six children have been staying at the park since Aug. 10, after she was told by the Yellowknife Housing Authority she couldn't stay in Dettah while waiting for housing in Yellowknife.

"It's tough," said Koe, surrounded by four of her children in the drafty canvas tent. "It gets cold at night."

Koe moved her family to Dettah from Fort McPherson in September 2006. She's been taking adult education classes through the Native Women's Association of the NWT.

Five months ago, Koe took her family to Yellowknife to stay with a friend so that she could be eligible for social housing in town.

She applied for social housing a month ago. Yellowknife Housing Authority rules state that applicants must be living in the city for four months before they are eligible to have their names put on a waiting list.

After her friend lost her apartment, Koe moved in with family in Dettah. Koe said she was told by the housing authority she could not stay on the list for housing in Yellowknife if she stayed in Dettah, which forced her quick move back into the city and into Fred Henne Park.

Jim White, chief executive officer for the housing authority, said that the resident policy is in place to ensure fair distribution of social housing.

With the authority's housing allocation based on need, people who just moved to the city with nothing are automatically considered a priority.

"If someone new comes to town, they're the most needy. They would have to be jumped on the list."

Koe was unaware that moving to Dettah would take her off the list since the community has its own housing authority.

"It can be a real disadvantage to people who've been here for a while," said White.

Koe said the Yellowknife Housing Authority offered to cover her transportation back to Fort McPherson. But with her life established in Yellowknife, she's not interested in going back.

"I lived there all my life," said Koe. "I'm starting my new life in Yellowknife."

Koe said she tried the Alison MacAteer house but was told it was full. With nowhere else to turn to, she borrowed a tent from her uncle and set up her home at the campsite.

"I used to live in a tent like this when I was younger with my grandmother," said Koe. "So I'm used to it."

Her family has received some food and supplies from the Salvation Army and St. Patrick's church.

All she needs now is a roof over her head.

Koe was told by the housing authority that the person handling her case was on vacation.

White confirmed that the tenant relations officer has been out of town, but will return this week to deal with any pending cases.

In the meantime, Koe's children have been rotating out of the campground - staying with an uncle in town to get a chance to shower.

As the weather turns colder, the family will soon need adequate housing.

The campground has agreed to let the family stay there until Sept. 18.