Affordable housing needed for city’s vulnerable, say mayor and chief

Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis and Kwanlin Dun First Nation Chief Doris Bill are calling for more affordable housing options for the city’s most vulnerable people.

Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis and Kwanlin Dun First Nation Chief Doris Bill are calling for more affordable housing options for the city’s most vulnerable people, and better communication between the organizations that provide services to them.

The message comes on the heels of a well-attended forum on Friday at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, where almost 300 people gathered to brainstorm ways to deal with issues of homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness on the streets of Whitehorse.

“It was really important to hear from the community, to hear what the problems are,” Bill said during a post-forum news conference.

“From our perspective, we know some of the issues but we don’t know them all. We do know that we have a problem and what we’ve been hearing is that it’s getting worse.

“As politicians we need to know what issues to champion and clearly housing is on the top of that list.”

Curtis said it was too early to identify any short-term solutions to mitigate the issues facing the city’s most vulnerable people. The forum was an opportunity to hear about those issues, who they affect and show a sense of urgency to resolve them, he added.

“There are a lot of things available and the people who need them the most aren’t aware of them,” he said.

“I feel like we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. We’re definitely looking forward at a second kick of the can to find short and long-term solutions.”

There has been a concern with affordable housing in Whitehorse for a long time, he added, and it’s been an “ongoing challenge” to improve that situation.

At Friday’s forum, attendees identified several locations around the city where vulnerable people at risk congregate.

They included the Canada Games Centre, Porter Creek Mall, parking lots of downtown grocery stores, the Kwanlin Dun Culture Centre, the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, the clay cliffs and the waterfront area.

The forum featured large posters where attendees could place red circular stickers next to the issues they considered to be most important. The most dots clustered around housing, gathering spaces and 24-hour services.

Other big issues included attitudes and public education towards vulnerable people at risk, harm reduction, outreach and transport.

“Let people know, who live here and who are visiting, that street people are harmless!” wrote one person on a four by six card.

“The homeless need housing but so do the working poor – they are vulnerable and often $40 away from being evicted,” wrote another.

Bill said she’s been in early discussions with the Yukon government to create a group home operated by the First Nation. Few details are on offer, but Bill said there has long been a concern within the Kwanlin Dun about the number of foster children with nowhere to go. “I can’t say what stage it’s at yet but we’re working on it,” she said.

A transition home would also be attached to help the people who age out of the group home, and to give them the life skills needed to survive on their own.

Bill, a foster child herself, said it’s a project that is near and dear to her.

“We have five young people who transitioned out of a Yukon government group home and they’re now on the street and that’s unacceptable,” she said.

“The government has a moral and legal obligation to prepare those young people for life after being a ward (of the Yukon government). Some of those kids I’m told are couch surfing; there are no programs, no education, nothing for them, they’re just partying.”

Both leaders also called for the creation of a database or resource handbook for existing services, and for that information to be posted around the city.

The next step is to gather all the information, put an action plan together and present it to the Yukon government, Bill said.

She’s also reached out to other First Nation leaders following the murder of Brandy Vittrekwa in December.

At the time, Bill spoke out about the issue of dealing with First Nation members who have been kicked out of their own communities.

Many of them move to Kwanlin Dun land, she said, and that causes a lot of problems.

On Friday, Bill said she had already heard back from the chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.

“It’s starting a dialogue and I’m hoping some results will come from it.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at myles@yukon-news.com