The Steve Cardiff Tiny Home Community as it was when unveiled in Whitehorse on Jan. 22, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Tiny home community offers solace and learning

How the Steve Cardiff Tiny House Community is faring one year after opening

One client living in the Steve Cardiff Tiny House Community says its central location has “opened doors” for him compared to living north of Whitehorse.

Travis Mcdiarmid, 32, said it’s made life easier, since he is now close to all the amenities downtown and near transportation routes. Things are changing for him. He’s in the process of going back to school, he said.

Mcdiarmid said he has no intention of uprooting.

“It’s wonderful, running water, electricity,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about your woodstove and can concentrate on other things in life like schooling.”

It has been just over one year since Blood Ties Four Directions Centre opened the Steve Cardiff Tiny House Community in downtown Whitehorse. The five tiny homes are all full, offering supported housing for at-risk clients who are in urgent need of a place to live.

The community has done more than house people grappling with homelessness, according Blood Ties Four Directions executive director Emily Jones. It has sparked greater understanding of clients’ needs and the community they come from.

Jones, who’s filling in for Patricia Bacon while she’s on sabbatical, called the process “eye opening.”

“It was kind of a new thing for Blood Ties to start a housing program, but certainly we had a lot to learn, so I think this year has been really successful in a lot of ways,” she said. “Through that success, we’ve also learned a lot.”

Living in 240-square-foot tiny homes isn’t for everyone, she said — full stop. But it’s a different kettle of fish for those who don’t have much experience living independently for extended periods.

Some clients have many possessions, the problem being that there aren’t many places in town where they can bring them. Jones cited a lack of secondhand stores for wares to be donated, which compounds the issue.

“We knew this going into it, but after experiencing it now we really are aware of the amount of teaching that we are doing, in terms of like how to be a responsible tenant and how to make sure you’re connecting with your neighbours and your community,” Jones said. “We learned who the program fits and how it might not work for everybody and we can figure out best who it works for.”

Opening the community pulled the threads of another problem. Some clients who leave jail or in-patient programs lose their homes once they get out, Jones said. This made organizers have to adjust the program halfway through, she noted. Blood Ties holds units for a minimum of three months. It depends on circumstances, so they could be reserved for longer if need be.

“We definitely want to make sure that people have a chance to keep their housing because in Whitehorse it’s just so easy to be put back into a place where you don’t have housing,” Jones said.

Another change occurred in the last year. A 24/7 emergency phone line is on the chopping block — funding is to be severed this year, Jones said. That program, the result of a partnership forged between Blood Ties and the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon, operates as an eviction prevention tool.

“We’re dealing with clients who have never been housed, so we want to give them all a chance at success and sometimes that means a worker to come down and negotiate what’s happening with the landlord and tenant instead of just getting evicted,” Jones said.

“I’m bummed out. It is stressful knowing we’re going into the next year not being able to continue the phone line existing as it has, so we’re gonna have to scale it down quite a bit.”

The community is an expansion of the original Steve Cardiff Tiny House.

From 2012 to 2016, the 240-square foot house (designed by Tony Zedda) was located on an undeveloped piece of land on Hawkins Street.

During that time, it served as a transitional home for five different people.

In 2016, when a larger-scale affordable housing project (also designed by Zedda) broke ground, the tiny house was put in storage until the community alternative was arrived at, and construction started in the summer of 2018. The original tiny house is now one of five at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Jarvis Street in downtown Whitehorse.

With files from Amy Kenny

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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