Yellowknife courthouse. Emelie Peacock photo
The justice system can be very difficult to navigate for people who are street-involved and facing charges.
“People’s lives are quite chaotic, especially when they’re street-involved and facing homelessness, so they have a lot going on and so they’re not always keeping track of things like court dates or the need to go seek legal counsel or find out what their fines are,” says executive director of the Yellowknife Women’s Society Bree Denning.
The society is now able to hire a local part-time advocate with money from a grant of $15,000 per year over three years from United Way NWT. The advocate will be working with people involved in the justice system, those charged and going through the court system, to remove barriers they face.
“It’s basically to support a local advocate who works closely with individuals who are involved in the justice system and who often don’t understand it, who don’t understand the importance of attending, might not be able to access legal advice on time,” she says. “This is really about trying to support people to get to their day in court and be prepared for their day in court.”
This type of assistance can also yield other positive outcomes, Denning says, including keeping the court process running smoothly for the benefit of the accused and, where they exist, for victims.
“Also making sure people are showing up in court, because if they’re not there might be a warrant put out for them, they might face fines or more restrictive penalties,” she adds.
Denning says the funding allows the position to be funded for a day to a day and a half per week. She hopes the position can become full-time, as she says the need exists. With the grant from United Way, Denning plans to collect data and write a larger funding proposal to expand the role.
The United Way has also awarded grants of $7,500 to 19 other community groups and non-profits through its annual campaign, including Dene Nahjo, Ecology North, the Rainbow Coalition of Yellowknife and the Yellowknife Association for Community Living.