On Michael Shapcott’s first visit to Whitehorse he’ll be sleeping on the streets.
The Toronto-based housing and homelessness expert will roll out a makeshift bed Wednesday night and sleep in a parking lot across the street from the Salvation Army.
In a strange way, he’s looking forward to it, he said.
Shapcott has slept out overnight in cities around the world to draw public attention to the issue of homelessness.
His night out, although tough, won’t compare to what homeless people actually go through day in and day out, said Shapcott who is the housing director at the Wellesley Institute.
But it’s a symbolic gesture nonetheless, particularly since homelessness has gotten far worse in Canada over the last two decades.
Much of this can be traced to a lack of federal funding for affordable housing, said Shapcott.
In 1973, there was a national housing program that funded 600,000 affordable homes across the country.
“It was a program that people all around the world looked to and said, ‘Canada is doing a fantastic job,’” he said.
But in 1993, the program shut down.
Three years later the government wiped its hands of affordable housing projects and downloaded the issue onto provincial and territorial governments.
In the Yukon, politicians are squabbling about how best to address poverty and homelessness.
The issue needs to be studied again, said Health and Social Services Minister Glenn Hart during question period last week.
Some say the issue has been studied to death at the territorial level.
More studies are fine so long as they actually lay out concrete timelines of what the territory will do, said Shapcott.
It’s when they rehash what has already been studied all over Canada and the world that they become redundant.
Even after 20-plus years working in the field, Shapcott remains convinced governments can eliminate homelessness.
And he’s encouraged by what he’s seen lately.
Last week, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce called on government to create a national plan to address homelessness.
“That’s a pretty remarkable thing,” said Shapcott.
“You expect to hear that from a social activist but it’s a different thing when a businessperson says it.”
And recently, several cities in Alberta have partnered to pressure the provincial government to move forward on the issue.
The province listened, offering to discuss new legislation and funding opportunities with them.
“Alberta went from being one of the worst provinces in Canada (in dealing with homelessness) to one of the best.”
Shapcott’s convinced a similar community collaboration in the Yukon could achieve these results and points to the good work that has already been done by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.
The North faces its own unique challenges – like the higher costs of building and different social and cultural pressures – but overcoming those obstacles are doable, said Shapcott.
“We can really make a difference if we get local collaborations right, and line up tools like financing,” he said.
“If there’s one thing I know without a doubt, we can actually adopt strategies that will end homelessness in Canada.”
Michael Shapcott speaks Wednesday evening at the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition’s Roughing It event. Music begins at 8:30 p.m. at the corner of 4th Avenue and Black Street. Shapcott will speak at 9 p.m. Anyone from the public is also encouraged to sleep outside. If roughing it isn’t for you, Shapcott is also speaking Thursday evening at the Yukon Inn’s Fireside Room at 7 p.m.
Contact Vivian Belik at email@example.com