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A small solution for a big housing problem

Blood Ties Four Directions is looking to Whitehorse for a little help to get its tiny house project off the ground.

Blood Ties Four Directions is looking to Whitehorse for a little help to get its tiny house project off the ground.

The non-profit group, which helps Yukoners living with HIV, AIDS and Hepatitis C, wants to build a small house downtown to provide some stable, transitional housing for some of its clients.

To make that happen it needs the city’s help.

Blood Ties is asking the city to wave the $15,000 it costs to hook the building up to water and sewer.

“We have somebody from the private sector willing to lease us their backyard,” said Heather Ashthorn, the organization’s housing navigator. “It’s in a perfect location.”

Finding a place downtown that can be used for both commercial and supportive-housing initiatives was difficult, she said.

“There’s actually a small window but we found a place,” said Ashthorn. “They’re offering us a short term lease and really low rent but they’re not really in a position to put in the $15,000 worth of infrastructure for a water and sewer hookup.”

On Monday Ashthorn and Blood Ties executive director Patricia Bacon appeared before council asking for help.

“It’s not a project that has been done in any other major municipality,” Ashthorn told council. “It’s an opportunity for the City of Whitehorse to be on the cutting edge.”

“Even though it’s a demonstration house, the project would be fulfilling a real need,” added Bacon.

Blood Ties helps about 200 clients who are living with HIV AIDS and Hepatitis C.

More than half of those clients, 60 to 70 per cent, are inadequately housed, Bacon said.

“People are not able to get treatment without adequate housing,” she said.

Blood Ties also has a lot of clients who are currently incarcerated at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

One of the hopes for this project is that the house could be used to help former inmates make the transition back into society, said Ashthorn.

Right now there are no transitional housing options for people leaving custody.

“They’re literally dumped out of the gate and there’s nowhere for them to go,” said Ashthorn.

Trying to find a place to live from inside the jail is next to impossible, she said.

“There’s no way to set anything up, so they end up on the streets or on somebody’s couch,” said Ashthorn. “It’s these things that generally lead people back to what got them put into WCC in the first place.”

The 200-square-foot house would cost about $30,000 to build and roughly $3,000 a year to operate and maintain.

The plans for the tiny house have been in the works for some time.

Originally Blood Ties planned to build the house as a demonstration project for the Poverty and Homeless Action Week last fall.

“We wanted to demonstrate to the public how easily, efficiently and inexpensively a shelter for one person can go up,” said Ashthorn.

Blood Ties collected donations, recruited volunteer labour and materials for the project.

“We were really set to go but we ran into a setback with city bylaw,” said Ashthorn.

Under the National Building Code - which the city is obliged to follow - if a house has access to the municipal water and sewer system it has to be tied into that infrastructure.

With that increased cost, Blood Ties was forced to put its plans on hold.

Late last year the nonprofit made an application to the city to see if there were any municipal grants available to fund a project like this, but there wasn’t anything available.

Now Blood Ties is now appealing directly to mayor and council for help.

“The city really needs to see something done,” said Ashthorn. “It would be great for the city to see that yes, the housing crisis is being addressed one small project at a time.”

The tiny house project is scheduled to go back before council in two weeks.

The city will make its final decision on Jan. 30.

Contact Josh Kerr at