Have you ever read the “wanted to rent” column in our local papers?
Nah, me neither. Why would I? I have a house.
But all that changed this past summer when I read an e-mail from Whitehorse United Church minister Rev. Bev Brazier.
A family, new to our congregation, were seeking housing. Having just arrived in Whitehorse, they were living in a friend’s basement.
To start their new life in Canada they needed to find their own place to live.
With both parents working in entry level positions, they could afford $850 to $900 per month for rent. They did not meet the residency requirement for low-cost housing assistance. Without a vehicle they preferred to be in Riverdale or downtown so that they could walk or bike to work.
So we, the family of Whitehorse United Church, began the search for affordable rental accommodation.
I offered to help, as did many other people in our congregation.
Where to start?
The general consensus is that you start with the newspaper and phone book.
Right away I noticed a few things … the “wanted to rent” column is the same length or longer than the “for rent” column. The tone of the wanted ads is one of despair. Recurring phrases are: single parent, new immigrant, desperately needed, urgently required, senior. There was even an ad that said “URGENT; PLEASE HELP US.”
I started by calling the apartments in the newspaper and phone book.
Several have an automated voice messaging system that says “we have no vacancy.” One manager told me that he receives so many phone calls that he no longer maintains a waiting list. His advice: call back on the first of every month and enquire if someone gave notice.
Another manager told me that she does have a waiting list; there were currently 78 families waiting for an apartment.
Another told me they have a maximum occupancy of four people per apartment.
Waiting in the dentist’s office, I asked the receptionist if she knows of any apartments for rent. She told me there’s no vacancy in her complex, but gave me the name of the manager. The manager does not have any vacancies, but does maintain a waiting list. New applicants must submit an RCMP security clearance.
Thinking realtors might have an inside scoop, I talked with a local realtor. To my utter dismay she said, “I check the newspapers every day for new listings.”
I checked the newspapers too and phoned about every new ad; the answer was always the same. “Sorry, already rented, already rented, already rented.”
Other folks heard of houses or condominiums, but the monthly rent was in excess of $1,500, or adults only, no children. I did not know what else to do.
The mother, in our new church family, had gone to many apartment buildings in Riverdale and downtown.
She had filled in papers and put their name on waiting lists but heard nothing.
I began to worry about my new friend; she looked pale and tired, her face became gaunt because she had lost so much weight.
She told me that her tears fall like rain because she was so worried about finding a place to live.
I finally understood her desperation when she said to me, “We never should have come here. There is no place for us to live. How can we start a new life if we can’t find a place to live?”
Remember the ad in the newspaper? The one that said “URGENT, PLEASE HELP US.” What can I do to help?
I contacted the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition and received the following suggestions:
1) Become informed. Learn about our housing crisis, poverty and social exclusion.
2) Respect homeless people as individuals. Say hello.
3) Challenge people you know to help combat homelessness.
4) Support government decisions that improve housing and housing options. Demand action.
5) Projects that are out there and could use public support are: Kaushee’s Second Stage Housing project and Northern City Supportive Housing Coalition’s project to build housing for the hard to house.
6) Join the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition Housing Task Force. Call Kristina at 334- 9317 for more information.
Beth Roberts, member
Social Justice Committee
Whitehorse United Church