Racing winter

Richard lives in a tent in Robert Service Park. He likes it there well enough. He finds the place safer and more secure than the clay cliffs, where he's pitched his tents in the past.

Richard lives in a tent in Robert Service Park.

He likes it there well enough. He finds the place safer and more secure than the clay cliffs, where he’s pitched his tents in the past. Last year, somebody drove up and ripped off all his gear, which was worth about $1,000.

A labourer, he’s been homeless for four years. He was evicted from his last apartment because, every month, his employer paid him a couple of days after the rent was due.

After four months of late payment, his landlord kicked him out. Richard set up his prized stereo and television in the alleyway, plugged them in, turned them on and then simply walked away.

He never went back, he said. There was no point – he had no place for the stuff.

Richard was one of about 50 people attending a Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition meeting at the Old Fire Hall on Tuesday night.

The coalition extended an open invitation for citizens to come and discuss issues around poverty and homelessness – those living it, making decisions about it and interested in learning more.

So, at several tables spread around the room, New Democrat, Liberal and Green Party politicians, businessmen and other civic leaders mingled with woodcutters, clerks, cooks and other regular folks. They shared dinner and swapped stories and ideas.

At some tables, people talked about the difficulties of wielding political clout when you don’t have a fixed address.

Some talked about the food bank and ways to feed the hungry.

At others, like Richard’s table, people discussed homelessness.

Winter is coming, and fellows like him are starting to shiver in their sleeping bags at night.

Richard’s trying to cobble together enough money to cover first and last months’ rent, but he’s not there yet. So he hunkers down in his tent and pulls the covers tighter.

Asked what he’s going to do this winter, he doesn’t answer. He doesn’t know.

It’s a problem for Richard, and the rest of us. With the temperature falling, what are the residents of Tent City going to do?

What are we going to do?

Building new housing isn’t an option. It’s too late.

But, perhaps the government could step in and acquire ATCO trailers, like the ones pulled in for the work crews currently cleaning the Canada Games Centre, said New Democrat Leader Elizabeth Hanson, who sat at Richard’s table.

Other ideas were floated as well. Perhaps renting the Westmark Klondike Inn for the winter might be less expensive than buying the old hotel outright. Such a plan might provide a stopgap until more housing can be built next year.

Also, there are plenty of churches scattered around the city. They are empty most nights, and could provide sanctuary to the territory’s homeless – sanctuary is, after all, a covenant churches have held with their communities for centuries.

There are trailer parks that sit empty all winter, said Liberal candidate Patrick Singh, suggesting they could be used to house the homeless. The government could rent RVs as a quick fix for the lack of shelter.

Or it could approach Takhini Transport, the school bus company that recently lost its territorial contract – after all, it may have a few idle buses available for rent. They could be retrofitted and provide temporary shelter for residents this winter in a pinch.

Or the old Canadian Tire facility could be rented and used for the residents of Tent City – they could pitch their tents inside the building, suggested Richard.

The problem is one of supply and demand, said Mal Malloch, who was moderating the discussion at Richard’s table.

There are empty buildings around town, he said. The trick is figuring out how to get people who need shelter into them.

People like Richard.

He was reluctant to approach Yukon Housing because it has a long waitlist. But he was encouraged to sign up as soon as possible. The sooner you get on the list, the faster you can get an apartment, said Hanson.

For now, his rifles are stored at a family member’s house. They’re locked up, he stressed. And though he’s got no place to live, he bought a stereo and TV. The stereo is a good one, and it is being stored in a friend’s basement until Richard gets an apartment.

Until then, he lives in his tent outside the premier’s office while he hunts down a better home.

He’s in a race with winter. And he’s not alone.

See the special report Gimme Shelter.

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