A month after tabling its first $1-billion budget, the Yukon Party government has issued a survey on health care that suggests the system is nearly broke.
It is a beautifully ambiguous statement, both true and false at the same time.
The system is, definitely, broke.
The health survey is a trial balloon. It suggests residents should prepare to whip out their wallets. Health services in the territory are too expensive. So expect treatments to diminish even as costs rise.
But perhaps there are other things the government could try first. Things that would save the system money in the long term.
Something groundbreaking, like attacking the root causes of poor health.
There are plenty of targets. Today, we’re going to suggest homelessness.
It is still a pervasive problem in Whitehorse, according to a recent poll conducted by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.
The coalition distributed a survey to a wide net of social groups around the city. They included the Salvation Army Thrift Shop, the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, Skookum Jim’s Friendship Centre, Yukon College Student Services, The Salvation Army, the Youth of Today Society and 12 others.
Over the course of one day, these agencies asked people to fill out the simple survey to get a snapshot of the need for housing in the community.
It asked three questions.
What is/was your housing situation during the week of January 26th to February 1, 2009?
Would you describe your housing situation as stable?
Where do you stay?
Over the course of that one day, 257 people took the time to answer the questions.
The results were startling.
Half did not have a stable place to live. And 61 people felt threatened every time they lay down to sleep.
Think about that for a minute. Consider what it would be like if, every time you lay down to sleep, you feared for your safety.
Another 61 had no place to cook a decent meal.
Seventy-one of the respondents reported inadequate housing—they couch-surfed, slept with friends in a hotel, lived in vehicles, tents or a shelter.
And 101 of the respondents said they couldn’t afford their current accommodation.
Half the respondents were men.
The coalition knew the poll wasn’t scientific, but it does suggest there is a profound need for housing in the city.
And the lack of such housing has a dramatic impact on health.
It’s hard to eat healthy foods if you lack a kitchen, or you’re blowing your food money to cover rent.
It’s hard to fight a substance abuse problem if you’re forced to bunk with your drunken buddies.
It’s easy to get exhausted and sick if you’re sleeping with one eye open fearing a rape or assault while you rest.
It all has an impact on the cost of our health and social service system.
In the Yukon, with a $1-billion budget, the system isn’t broke.
But, given the coalition’s survey, it is.
The system fixes people alright, but it doesn’t do a particularly good job of heading off problems before they wind up in hospital.
If you are committed to cutting health costs, there are plenty of places you can target to reduce the load on the system. Housing is but one.
It just takes a commitment to the people most in need.
Unfortunately, the people most in need are often not politically active.
They are too busy trying to survive. (Richard Mostyn)