Reports from the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition have confirmed what many Whitehorse residents who pay for food, shelter and other necessities have been feeling: It is all becoming less affordable.
The organization that works to alleviate poverty in the territory recently published its annual living wage report, the results of the point-in-time homeless count YAPC conducted with the Safe at Home Society, and a report card for the government on how well suggested poverty-alleviation measures have been implemented.
Each year, YAPC calculates the wage that the two full-time working parents in its sample family would have to earn in order to afford a modest lifestyle for them and their two children. Per the report, the living wage for Whitehorse is now $21.04 per hour up from $20.95 in 2021 and $18.28 in 2022 when the rising trend was checked by the implementation of benefits like the territory’s child care subsidy. The 2023 living wage is the highest on record.
The living wage accounts for government transfers like the Canada Child Benefit and deductions like income tax.
YAPC attributes the rise in the living wage to substantial increases in the cost of necessities like shelter, food and transportation. It found that the high cost of rental housing remains the most significant affordability challenge for low and modest-income Yukoners. According to the report, the reference family whose modest lifestyle the living wage calculation is based on paid a record-high amount for shelter over the past year: $27,022. This is a significant increase over the $25,450 paid the year before.
“The shelter expense accounted for 35.3 per cent of the reference family’s pre-tax income in 2023, significantly higher than [the] 30 per cent affordability metric used by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation,” YAPC’s report notes.
The cost for families trying to keep a roof over their heads isn’t the only thing that was on the rise. 2022’s living wage calculation predicted that affordability gains made by government benefits would likely be swallowed by inflation as single-digit increases including a 5.1 per cent increase in the cost of food between the end of 2021 and spring 2022. It seems the prediction has come true as the food cost increase for the reference family in 2023 was 13.9 per cent for an annual expenditure of $14,521. A 7.3 per cent increase in the cost of transportation was also observed.
With the challenges of affordability present, YAPC also released another report entitled the Yukon Poverty Report Card. The report dealing with the year 2022 grades various levels of government on their response to nine calls to action levied in 2020.
The 2020 calls to action included increased investment in social and affordable housing in order to alleviate wait lists for housing, a minimum wage increase and rent increase regulations. The report card issued a range of scores from the A and A+ ratings on the minimum wage bump and territory-wide low-fee child care recommendations that exceeded the expectations of anti-poverty advocates to the failing grades on reducing wait lists for social housing and the creation of legislated targets for poverty reduction.
Also presented by YAPC in recent days is the key findings of the point-in-time homelessness count that was conducted on the night of April 18, 2023. The count found that at least 197 people in Whitehorse experience homelessness on the night in question.
Of those, the report states that 75 people were “absolutely homeless” with 65 emergency sheltered for the night at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter or another facility and 10 considered unsheltered as they planned to stay in a car, tent or other unsheltered space. There were 109 respondents provisionally accommodated in transitional housing, a hotel or motel, someone else’s home or a public facility such as the hospital, the correctional centre or a substance-use treatment program. The largest portion of these people, 51 survey respondents, were in transitional housing.
Thirteen point-in-time count respondents were unsure of where they were staying on the night in question.
The 197 people recorded as experiencing homelessness in the 2023 point-in-time count suggests an increase in the number of people in Whitehorse who are unable to find reliable housing. A similar count conducted in 2021 found 151 people unhoused.
A total of 55 per cent of point-in-time count respondents said they had been homeless for a full 12 months and another 25 per cent had been homeless for between six and 12 months. The report notes that the similarity of these figures to the 2021 count suggests people are trapped in long-term cycles of homelessness.
“These results illustrate once again that people’s health is suffering, they are trapped in shelter systems and their housing needs are unmet” said Kate Mechan, executive director of Safe at Home Society, quoted in the report.
“The increased trend in those experiencing absolute homelessness is worrisome and inexcusable.”
At the City of Whitehorse’s Sept. 18 standing committee meeting, Coun. Michelle Friesen drew attention to the fact that 90 per cent of those experiencing homelessness were Indigenous, which the report on the point-in-time count notes is the highest on record.
At the same meeting, Coun. Ted Laking noted that the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased at a faster rate than Whitehorse’s population and that the construction of large rental developments has not kept up. He wondered aloud about possible ways the city might incentivize these kinds of developments.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com