Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis and Kwanlin Dun Chief Doris Bill are urging the Yukon government to step in and help create affordable and sustainable housing in the territory.
They’re saying that despite making similar pleas in April, on the heels of a forum that was held to address issues of homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness on the streets of Whitehorse, they’ve yet to see any assistance.
“I’m pretty exasperated,” said Curtis this morning during a news conference at Whitehorse City Hall. “We need some affordable housing in the short-term.”
“All we can do is keep on saying the situation is dire, it hasn’t gone away, it’s just not affordable.”
This past weekend some of Whitehorse’s business leaders, including representatives from the Westmark Hotel, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Hougen Group and Northern Vision
Development, took part in a workshop at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre to brainstorm ideas on how they could help.
One of their recommendations was for a survey to be carried out, one that would identify roughly how many homeless and vulnerable people are on the city’s streets, Curtis said.
They also said that providing affordable housing to the city’s most vulnerable wouldn’t address all their issues, he added.
But beyond that, few details about any ideas or solutions they brought forward were revealed.
Jordan Stackhouse, the city’s economic development coordinator, is preparing a report on the workshop, which will be available in the next two weeks. It will describe, in more detail, the ideas and solutions that were brought up during the workshop, Curtis said.
Bill said she hopes the information contained in the report, as well as the numbers revealed in the survey, will be used to create a comprehensive plan for everyone to work on.
“That’s really what everybody needs,” she said.
There are roughly 80 to 100 homeless people living within the Kwanlin Dun First Nation community alone, she added.
Almost 300 people attended a forum in late April at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre to brainstorm ways to address the issues facing the city’s most vulnerable people.
At the time, attendees identified several locations around the city where vulnerable people at risk congregate including the Canada Games Centre, Porter Creek Mall, parking lots of downtown grocery stores and the waterfront area.
This morning, both leaders agreed that political will was the key to achieving any kind of progress in offering better housing to Whitehorse’s most vulnerable residents.
“It’s a slow slog when it comes to government – it’s been years and nothing has happened to address the concerns,” Curtis said.
“I feel our government has had a deaf ear with other levels of government when we raise these concerns. If they have a willingness to put $8 million into a project, they will, and if they’re willing to put $8 million into sustainable housing, they can.”
Curtis was likely referring to the territorial government’s support of a proposed plan to build a $7-million sport complex in Whistle Bend earlier this year.
The Yukon government threw its weight behind the project, even promising the City of Whitehorse that it would never seek any funds from it for the facility. But members of council ultimately voted against re-zoning the land, denying the government permission to build the facility.
Curtis said he’s not looking for a handout or a “great big cheque.”
The city and the First Nation have limited resources, he added, and it’s important for citizens and business leaders to rally and send a message to the territorial government that something has to give.
“We’re not trying to cry broke – but we’re broke, we don’t have any money,” Curtis said.
“I don’t know what else it takes to have a wake up call to say that your citizens are dying because they don’t have adequate housing. No one is asking for a handout, we’re asking for some working relationships to address the concerns we have.”
Curtis also urged Yukoners to exercise their right to vote, in both the upcoming municipal and federal elections, and express their concerns.
“Perhaps the powers that be will acknowledge that and put some resources into what we need.”
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