An open letter to the landlords of Whitehorse

Have you ever slept in your car? Maybe you were on a long road trip and, rather than fall asleep and end up in the ditch you just pulled over and had a power nap.

COMMENTARY

by Chris Vainio

Have you ever slept in your car? Maybe you were on a long road trip and, rather than fall asleep and end up in the ditch you just pulled over and had a power nap.

I find that if I put the steering wheel up, push the seat back and recline it all the way, it’s not too bad. I’ve got an SUV with seats that fold down. If I clear out the tackle box and rods I can get a double air mattress in and go camping for the long weekends. It’s much drier than a tent.

Actually, if given the choice between spending the weekend at home and sleeping in the back of the truck by the lake, I will always choose one of the territory’s campgrounds. I might be a little stiff going in to work on Monday, but it’s worth it for the fresh air and sunshine.

By mid September it’s starting to get a little chilly. By mid October, camping anywhere other than in a cabin is probably out of the question.

Thankfully, I don’t have to sleep in a car every night. Some people don’t have a choice.

If you’re living in your car, where do you keep your food? Do you fold your laundry on the hood? Where do you go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Most of us don’t have to worry about this, but there are several people in the Whitehorse area sleeping in their cars, tents, or just in the bushes.

These are members of our community; sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, cousins and neighbors.

While there are several apartments, condos, and basement suites available for rent in town, there are not very many under $1,000. If you are accessing social assistance for shelter and utility allowances, your budget will be about $1,000. Anything above that comes out of your food allowance.

Among the apartments that actually are in the social assistance price range, some landlords are reluctant to rent to people who are not working. Some have had a bad experience with a previous tenant and are reluctant to take a risk.

There are many reasons why someone may find themselves unemployed or homeless, but regardless of the reason, shelter is a basic human right, just like food. It’s not easy to get back on your feet when you don’t have anywhere to live.

Here are some suggestions for landlords to consider:

If a prospective tenant has barriers to housing such as unemployment or a lack of references, dig a little deeper. Ask what their long term plans are. How do they spend their free time? Ask what community supports they are accessing and if they have any other connections in the community that could provide a character reference.

If a tenant has caused some damage, can you give them a reasonable amount of time to repair it? It may take some time to access funding or ask family for some financial assistance. Can they pay you for repairs in installments?

When your tenant is not following the rules, ask yourself if there is a way to resolve the issue without an eviction. What will take up more of your time: issuing an eviction, cleaning the apartment, repairing damages, dealing with a dispute through the residential tenancies office, and screening potential replacement tenants, or sitting down with the tenant for 15 minutes to reiterate the boundaries and suggest an agency that can offer some support? I don’t expect landlords to act as social workers, I only ask that we keep in mind that we are discussing someone’s home, and for chronically homeless individuals there may be an adjustment period. Can a behavior problem be resolved without involving the RCMP?

In Whitehorse, there are several non-profit agencies with staff members whose role is to help people find homes. If you receive a phone call from one of them, please take the time to consider some of the programs and supports they can offer, and remember that not everyone receiving social assistance is going to be a problem tenant. In fact, statistics from across the country show that when people are housed after being homeless there are measurable drops in involvement with emergency services and substance abuse. Individuals are much more likely to return to employment or access treatment programs.

Of course landlords have to protect their investments and the interests of their other renters. When a tenant has annoyed a neighbor or been too loud late into the evening, try to remember that everyone makes mistakes, and a little compassion and patience can go a long way. To protect yourself, I suggest having a clear and concise rental agreement outlining expectations, which can be referred to in the event of a dispute.

Everyone should have somewhere to call home. A car is not a home. If you are renting to someone, that is what you are providing them: a home.

Chris Vainio is the Housing Navigator at Blood Ties Four Directions and a member of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition Housing Task Force. For more information on how you can help email housing@bloodties.ca

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