Many Yukoners, particularly seniors and persons living with disabilities, tell me they are concerned about the accessibility of Yukon government buildings and services. Some of these people live in Yukon Housing buildings, while others are seeking work with the Yukon government or are users of front-line government services.
In August I wrote to the four government ministers with the greatest responsibility for these issues – the ministers of Health and Social Services, Community Services, and Highways and Public Works, and the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation. I asked them to outline their accessibility plans.
I still await a response. One issue I raised is the future of the old Whitehorse Public Library on Second Avenue, which has sat vacant for over a year.
Whitehorse residents are fond of the space and I have had many conversations with constituents about what will happen to this centrally-located, bright, accessible space with parking and a bus stop nearby. With good planning, it could become an anchor for that area of downtown.
I suggested back in July that it might be a good space for the Insured Health Services offices, which are currently located on the fourth floor of a nearby building. The elevator in that building is known for being out of order on a regular basis.
A street level location would better serve residents with mobility challenges and demonstrate the inclusive approach the Yukon government says it is trying to take to service delivery. Others have suggested the old library space would be ideal for a childcare facility.
Without any public discussion, the Yukon Party government has decided the old library will be used for Executive Council Office programs.
Another specific issue I raised with the ministers is the design of Yukon Housing buildings. Recently, Housing Minister Scott Kent announced plans to build new seniors housing on Alexander Street.
I suggested that he should speak with prospective occupants before signing off on the design. I have visited many seniors currently living in Yukon Housing units who, although happy to have a place to live, feel little or no consideration was given to design features that would make their units accessible when they were built.
The results include bathtubs that people with mobility challenges cannot get into and out of safely and shelves that are not within a safe reach. It is no surprise that a recent audit of government contracts found a lack of effort to ensure the public receives good value for money.
When government doesn’t meaningfully involve stakeholders in design decisions, their needs often go unmet. It costs much more to fix building deficiencies than it does to do it right the first time.
I encourage Yukoners who believe that government services and housing should be accessible and responsive to community needs to contact ministers Doug Graham, Elaine Taylor, Scott Kent and Wade Istchenko.
Government should be there to serve the people. When it is, we can build a better and more inclusive Yukon for everyone.
Leader, Yukon NDP Official Opposition
MLA, Whitehorse Centre