This letter is being written in response to some of the recent media coverage regarding the escalating violence on downtown Whitehorse streets.
In a recent Yukon News article, a Whitehorse resident expressed frustration with the lack of protection from police when pedestrians are being accosted and harassed by intoxicated people. On Oct. 3, there was a story on CBC radio (afternoon show) where a man was attacked and he and his coworker had to fight back to avoid being harmed.
This behaviour is definitely not acceptable; no violence ever is. However, the reaction and comments of Whitehorse residents to criminalize people for having addictions is also not acceptable. Simply adding more patrols to the downtown streets will not solve the problem at hand. Putting drunken people in jail is not a solution – it is a Band-Aid.
It seems easier to ignore the real issues at hand (homelessness, residential school, childhood trauma, poverty, etc.) but if we as Whitehorse residents truly want to have a safe city, then we need to embrace the concept of inclusion and acceptance. We can’t separate residents of Whitehorse into “us” and “them.” We all live here together, and we all have a part to play in making a strong and vibrant community.
Some people need support – and right now there is not much support for those who are street-involved. The emergency shelter is over capacity every night and hotels are charging up to $1,200 per month to people on social assistance.
Research has shown that to do nothing about homelessness is more expensive than shifting the focus to eliminating it. People who are homeless are more likely to have poorer health, mental-health issues, involvement with the justice system and substance-abuse issues.
Tim Richter from the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness was recently in Whitehorse and he spoke to the fact that any city can solve homelessness if it wants to. He told us that there are 10 essentials to any effective plan to end homelessness. The most important point is to have a clear, deliberate and comprehensive plan. See “A Plan, Not A Dream” or Calgary’s 10-year plan to end homelessness at www.caeh.ca.
Mr. Richter also suggested that often municipalities take the lead in getting a plan started. Not because housing or social supports are in their mandate, but because the impact of homelessness is felt on their streets by their voters.
Equally important is a commitment from our territorial government whose departments do have a mandate to provide social and housing supports. First Nation governments also have a role to play. Mr. Richter also reminded us of the importance of community support – we need business leaders, the faith community and individuals to support any and all work that ends homelessness in Whitehorse.
Here’s a challenge, if you – as a proud Whitehorse resident – truly want to make our streets safer, don’t turn to the police for help to jail the “vagrants” turn to your municipal candidates and encourage them to get the ball rolling. We can build a solid plan to end homelessness – we just need to get started and commit to it.
Charlotte Hrenchuk and Bill Thomas, co-chairs
Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition