01/11/2017 13:30 EST | Updated 01/12/2018 00:12 EST

Formerly homeless N.W.T. woman hired as consultant for Housing First program

Eight years ago, Annie Thrasher was homeless and struggling to care for nine children on her own. But now she is using that experience to help those most in need as a lived experience consultant for the Housing First program in Yellowknife.

Thrasher says she really enjoys her new role. 

"I know I could do good somewhere," she says. 

"I love the job. I know I could bring forward a lot of experience and knowledge."

Thrasher says she ended up homeless after she was evicted from her public housing unit in Inuvik. She moved back to her home community of Paulatuk, N.W.T., to be closer to family and to hopefully find a place to call home. But she was still forced to move from place to place.

Looking for more opportunities and a better future, she decided to move to Yellowknife, but had to stay at the women's shelter at the Centre for Northern Families. She says being homeless and having children was extremely stressful, being "worried about where my son is going to be sleeping today, [and] tonight. Is he going over to the SideDoor [youth centre]? Is he able to sleep at my sister's?"

Eventually she managed to find stable housing and got a job working part-time at the women's shelter. She says she heard about the "lived experience consultant" position with the Housing First program and was encouraged to apply.

"Somebody told me to get my application in and I got the job," she said. "I was very happy for that."

The Housing First program provides homes to some of the city's most vulnerable homeless residents. 

Under the program, four staff members assist clients to set up medical appointments, applying for jobs, and filling out paperwork, among other things, but according to Lauren Gostick, Housing First team lead, Thrasher's role is a huge asset. Gostick says the program's tenants relate to Thrasher and have built up a unique trust with her that can often be difficult to establish with others who haven't shared the same experiences.

She says some tenants may feel isolated after they move into their homes because they might have gotten used to being around other homeless people all the time. But she says Thrasher's role helps make the transition easier. 

"She can just go in, she can just have a coffee or tea, play some games. Make that person maybe feel a little less lonely or isolated," said Gostick.

In return, clients open up more to Thrasher.

Gostick says they tell Thrasher things "they might not be willing to tell me because they either don't know me or they feel like I don't understand certain things. So Annie is able to kind of gather this information from folks about how they're truly doing and what's really going on and how we might be able to support them."

Gostick says Thrasher also helps the Housing First team communicate effectively with the clients.

"If we're with someone and I'm trying to explain something with all these unnecessary words or concepts, Annie kind of sneaks in there and is like: 'no, this is what Lauren is trying to say,' in a way that actually makes sense to people."

Gostick says Thrasher also brings insight from her life and experiences, including her time spent at residential school.

The program started housing clients in the early fall of 2016. So far, eight tenants are housed under the municipally- and territorially-funded program.

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