City, Kwanlin Dun to discuss down and outs

The City of Whitehorse and Kwanlin Dun First Nation will host a meeting on Friday to discuss homelessness, addictions and other thorny social problems that are often on public display along the city's waterfront.

The City of Whitehorse and Kwanlin Dun First Nation will host a meeting on Friday to discuss homelessness, addictions and other thorny social problems that are often on public display along the city’s waterfront.

“The intent here is to find tangible solutions that we can implement right away,” said Mayor Dan Curtis.

“It’s not just homelessness – it’s mental health, it’s affordable housing too. We don’t have all the answers but I think they will be in that room on Friday.”

Curtis said he and Chief Doris Bill have faced some criticism for not doing more to help the vulnerable people who tend to gather along the waterfront. “But the reality is the only way we’ll find some resolve is to work together as a community – I think that’s what the message is.”

More than 260 people are expected to attend the meeting, which will be held at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre and will feature a wide variety of speakers and presenters.

Andy Nieman, the territory’s former child and youth advocate, will speak about his own experiences with alcohol addiction and residential school.

He said he hopes to convey a sense of hope, and that there are ways of getting out of difficult situations.

“The situation is quite bad, with people living on the street and not being able to find or access the right resources,” he said.

“And it’s getting worse because there are more people coming from the communities, and the Northwest Territories. Vulnerable people live a very hurtful life – we see them in Whitehorse every day.

“I’m hoping the forum will create dialogue and raise awareness for the issue, and ultimately create opportunities to help the weakest in our society.”

Jeanie Dendys, director of justice for the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, said it’s no coincidence the event is being held at the same time as the Walking With Our Sisters exhibition.

The exhibit commemorates the lives of missing and murdered aboriginal women, a vulnerable population in itself, Dendys said.

“It’s related in many ways to the issues discussed at the forum and we have the same expectation that we’d like to see action come out of it,” she added.

“The response has been tremendous.”

Peter Clark, the Yukon RCMP’s commanding officer, will also speak at the forum, as well as keynote speaker Dr. Gabo Mate.

The physician and author worked for years with drug addicts of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and wrote about his experiences in the book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.

Kristina Craig of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition will be presenting two short films on homelessness, featuring people talking about their own experiences and how they’ve battled with the issue. “The fact that two governments are hosting a forum to talk about some of these issues is very positive,” she said.

The event kicks off at 8:30 a.m. and continues until 4:30 p.m.

It will also feature a circle of sharing, where facilitators will lead small groups in discussion on a number of questions such as which locations attract vulnerable people, and what programs are currently in place to help them.

To RSVP, contact Dinah Laing at dinah.laing@whitehorse.ca or call 668-8626.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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