New data has provided a snapshot of the size of Whitehorse’s homeless population and the numbers are too high, according to local advocates.
The city’s first point-in-time homeless count has revealed that 256 people are homeless or at risk of homelessness. That’s about one per cent of Whitehorse’s population.
“It confirmed my view that the situation is really unacceptable here,” said Bill Thomas, co-chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition. “With the resources we have and the small population, this just shouldn’t exist.”
The count was conducted over a 24-hour period in April by the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN), the Yukon Planning Group on Homelessness, which includes local organizations such as the coalition, Blood Ties Four Directions Centre, and the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, and trained volunteers.
They went to locations around the city to talk to people about their housing.
During that window, 44 people were found to be unsheltered, living on the streets, in parks, or in vehicles. Thirty-three were staying in emergency shelters, while 42 were “provisionally accommodated,” with temporary housing at Betty’s Haven, the Adult Resource Centre, or the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
Finally, 137 were at risk of homelessness, meaning their housing situation was precarious or didn’t meet health and safety standards.
“The numbers coming out are too high for what we say we believe in as a community,” said Blood Ties executive director Patricia Bacon.
Whitehorse often feels like a small town, yet it has a large number of people who are precariously housed, she said.
“I think we believe that we have better values than that, that our community values are such that we wouldn’t let that happen in our community.”
The figures provide a baseline, according to Thomas.
“It’s basically just trying to get more relevant information, with the idea that it will be a source for future policy,” he said, such as the territory’s homelessness action plan.
With funding from the federal government’s Homeless Partnering Strategy, 30 Canadian communities are conducting point-in-time counts this year. The goal is to create a national picture of homelessness.
The government provided methodology for the counts, to ensure they’re completed in the same way. A survey was designed to collect information about the characteristics of cities’ homeless population, including age, gender, veteran status, and aboriginal identity.
The federal government’s aim is to examine unsheltered homelessness — people living on the streets — and sheltered homelessness, which includes those in emergency shelters and transitional housing.
The CYFN and the Yukon planning group took their data gathering a step further, though.
They worked with the Yukon Bureau of Statistics to ask additional, more detailed questions of count participants and establish two distinct classifications – provisionally accommodated and at risk of homelessness. The result is a bigger picture of homelessness in Whitehorse.
“The thing about the North is housing and homelessness and housing risk look a little different,” said Bacon. “Just because when you walk down the street, you’re not seeing someone sleeping in a doorway doesn’t mean that the Yukon doesn’t have issues around homelessness and housing.”
It’s important to look, too, at people who are couch-surfing or living in hotels through the winter, she said. These are temporary situations, and these residents may feel vulnerable because of the uncertain future of their housing.
The full results of the count will be released later this summer.