Housing lessons from down south

Most people have a skewed perspective on homelessness, says Allyn Lyon, director of community and industry partnerships for the Yukon Housing Corporation. "We think of the homeless as a down-and-outer, someone who drinks out of a brown paper bag."

Most people have a skewed perspective on homelessness, says Allyn Lyon, director of community and industry partnerships for the Yukon Housing Corporation.

“We think of the homeless as a down-and-outer, someone who drinks out of a brown paper bag,” he said. “It includes those people, but it also includes many other kinds, like families.”

Homelessness is a complex problem, but fortunately for Whitehorse, it is one that many other cities have also faced.

Ten years ago Denver, Colorado was facing a homeless crisis that makes the problems in Whitehorse pale in comparison.

The city decided to take action after a municipal election that saw a new mayor take office and 10 of the 13 city councillors replaced.

Denver’s Road Home program was launched in 2005, providing a 10-year plan to end homelessness.

“It was a very audacious statement to say that, one, we were going to end homelessness, and two, that we’re going to reduce the chronic homeless rate by 75 per cent in the first years, and then to actually do it generated a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of excitement,” said Benny Milliner the executive director of Denver’s Road Home.

Milliner was in Whitehorse last week as part of the 2013 Northern Housing Conference.

The conference kicked off with an announcement by Scott Kent, minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, that the government was going to create a housing action plan for Yukon.

The move was applauded by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, which, along with the NDP Opposition, had long been calling for a territorial housing strategy.

Details are still scant about what the plan will include or how long it will take to develop.

It took Denver a year and a half to develop its plan.

But that process was vital to its success, said Milliner.

“This is not a quick-fast approach to getting things done,” he said. “You want to have as many people at the table as possible. You want as much input as possible, because it has to be an organic movement, it has to be something that grows out of the community, not a top-down approach.’

“You really have to have the input of the people that are going to be impacted by what you do.”

Denver’s Road Home is a housing-first strategy.

The idea is that by getting people into housing from the start it will be easier to address other deep-rooted problems, like substance abuse.

In the eight years since the program started, 956 units of housing have been created for the chronically homeless and almost 6,000 families and individuals have been prevented from becoming homeless through eviction assistance.

That’s all within the backdrop of an unanticipated and prolonged recession that has put tremendous pressure on the safety net.

But while Milliner credits the “crusading mentality” of Mayor John Hickenlooper – who has since gone on to become governor of Colorado – and the charisma of the staff for the success of the initiative, it wasn’t something that they did on their own.

“This is nothing that any one entity or government is going to be able to solve,” he said. “It has to be something where we all have some skin in the game.”

A big part of Denver’s Road Home is the mentoring program that has seen local religious congregations sponsor families and seniors in need.

Almost 1,200 individuals and families have taken part in that mentorship program, said Brad Hopkins, the executive director at Central Wyoming Rescue Mission.

Hopkins used to run the mentorship program in Denver, and was in Whitehorse last week to talk about it.

“The main issue leading to homelessness is really not a lack of resources, it’s a lack of relationships,” he said.

While there is a common perception that those in poverty compensate for their lack of resources by forming unusually rich social and emotional ties, the reality is actually the opposite, said Hopkins.

“Many mothers tell us that they could not name one person that they would consider a friend,” said Hopkins. “Poverty, it’s a horrible pun, but it is a full-time job.

“You think about many of those healthy, supportive relationships that you and I form over a nice dinner that we can afford, or a cup of coffee, but for a single mom living hand-to-mouth, trying to pull resources together for their children, not only do you not have the funds to do that, but you don’t have the time.”

Fostering a positive, supportive relationship is just one of the tools that Denver’s Road Home uses to get people on the right track.

Although the program has exceeded its own lofty goals, Milliner admits there is still a lot of work to do.

“People ask me, ‘Can we really eliminate homelessness?’ I don’t know if we can eliminate homelessness. My job should be to create a seamless homeless-care system, so that if people find themselves in a situation, there’s resources available to help them to move through that system and back to some level of self sufficiency.”

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited internet options beginning Dec. 1. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet for some available Dec. 1

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited… Continue reading

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Most Read