Eight months following what has been termed a “scathing” review by the auditor general of Canada, officials with the department of Health and Social Services (HSS) and the Yukon Housing Corporation (YHC) sat down with several Yukon MLAs to answer questions at the standing committee on public accounts on Jan. 31.
The meeting lasted three hours and was peppered with statistics, program adjustments, changes to current practices, memorandums of understanding with terms of reference and an overriding commitment “to do better” from the two new heads of the key entities for housing in the territory — Ed van Randen, deputy minister of HSS, and Justin Ferbey, the recently appointed president of YHC.
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon chairs the public accounts committee. Other MLAs who attended are Scott Kent of the Yukon Party and Jeanie McLean of the Liberals. Emily Tredger participated on behalf of vice-chair Kate White of the NDP and Nils Clark substituted for Richard Mostyn of the Liberals at the meeting. All hail from Whitehorse ridings.
“The purpose of this public hearing is to address issues of the implementation of policies, whether programs are being effectively and efficiently delivered, and not to question the policies of the Government of Yukon specifically,” Dixon reminded members in his opening remarks.
Glenn Wheeler, principal from the auditor general of Canada, provided an overview of the audit findings and reminded the committee why they were there.
“We found that little progress had been made by either the corporation or the department to fix long standing issues affecting housing programs and services,” he said.
He highlighted his two main concerns — one, that HSS and YHC did not provide adequate and affordable housing for Yukoners in greatest need, and that the two organizational entities did not work together or with their housing partners to manage housing for people who need it most.
Prior to the session, several reports had been provided by the department and the corporation which included a workplan of improvements and a quarterly housing report covering emergency shelter, transitional and supported housing, social assistance and community outreach services. It counts bed use per night, but not how long people stay at the shelter.
The joint workplan contained nine main points for improvement. It includes items like updating comprehensive needs analysis, conducting a rent review, setting up accountability and management systems for financial agreements, improving data collection for evaluation and improvements, systems for repairs, as well as improving the working relations between the two government entities.
The committee also received several submissions in advance of the hearing from groups like the Reaching Home Society, Connective, the Women’s Transition Home, Association of Yukon Communities and the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
Standing committee members asked about what groups the government is talking to while designing programs.
A letter from the two organizational heads said they reached out “for input to other Yukon and federal government departments, including the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation, Yukon First Nations, non-government organizations that provide services to vulnerable Yukoners, Yukon municipalities, Reaching Home Community Advisory Board members and the private sector such as developers, consultants, and banks.”
A submission from the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition said, “as far as we know, the expertise of people with lived experience was not sought nor used, and the feedback that some partners have tried to provide on YHC’s new tenant allocation policy, for example, is also not being heeded.”
The anti-poverty coalition also reported that in the last eight months they had seen policy changes that have made it harder to access social housing and supported housing programs.
The audit found that although HSS had worked to increase emergency shelter capacity and housing with supports, that effectiveness and client services suffered because they did not assess need and collect data to inform their decisions.
Ferbey said that it was challenging to find ways to compensate people with lived experience for the time it takes them to participate in government processes and meetings.
The reports, submissions and transcripts are available online at https://yukonassembly.ca/committees/pac.
Contact Lawrie Crawford at email@example.com