Councillor wants city to address homelessness

Whitehorse is not in the business of providing social housing. But it should be, says Betty Irwin. The city councillor doesn't understand why affordable housing is not part of Whitehorse's mandate.

Whitehorse is not in the business of providing social housing.

But it should be, says Betty Irwin.

The city councillor doesn’t understand why affordable housing is not part of Whitehorse’s mandate.

“We are in the business of taking care of our citizens,” said Irwin.

“So shouldn’t this be part of it?”

Social housing has been the responsibility of the territorial government.

“But just because the city has never been involved with social housing doesn’t mean it’s impossible,” said Irwin.

The city of Yellowknife has a fulltime homelessness co-ordinator.

In the six years Dayle Hernblad has been on the job, she’s overseen the construction of a youth shelter, a 32-unit transition home for men, a day shelter and the continued maintenance of a 44-bed shelter, while a new 22-unit supported-living complex for women is in the works.

This gives Yellowknife – population 18,700 – more than 90 shelter beds.

Whitehorse – population 26,400 – has 14.

The city of Juneau, Alaska, also employs an affordable housing co-ordinator.

Scott Ciambor’s job is to provide guidance to the city on housing issues.

So far, this has involved working on everything from homelessness and mental-health issues to land allocation and rent-to-own properties.

Ciambor also co-ordinates meetings between upwards of 30 local organizations involved in Juneau’s homelessness and housing initiative, including police, hospital staff, city officials, state employees, realtors, developers, doctors, school board members, mental-health workers, lawyers, church groups and local nonprofits.

The city of Whitehorse doesn’t need a homelessness co-ordinator, said Coun. Florence Roberts.

The territorial government has Yukon Housing, she said.

“And we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”

The city gives tax breaks to Habitat for Humanity’s affordable housing projects, said Roberts. “And we create incentive programs and try to make land available.

“We do what we can.”

But we could do more, said Irwin.

“I know the city offers tax breaks and gives leeway to development agreements to make them more viable,” she said.

“But it’s not enough.”

Whitehorse is trying to bring as much land as possible to market, said city manager Dennis Shewfelt.

But when it comes to dealing with affordable housing, Yukon Housing is the primary agent, he said. “The city has never looked at anything along these lines.

“We’re not set up to act as a landlord.”

The city does work closely with Yukon Housing when it comes to plans and zoning, he added.

And Shewfelt sits on an anti-poverty working group, he said.

The city doesn’t need a homelessness co-ordinator position, because council has enough contact with the public, added Roberts.

The public can make presentations to council, she said.

“We are very open and accountable – maybe more so than Yellowknife.

“So we don’t need this kind of position.

“We are there if you need us.”

Council makes decisions about where the money goes, said Shewfelt.

And the city is “hard-pressed to meet its current needs without branching out into other areas we’re not involved in,” he said.

“It all comes down to dollars.”

Whitehorse council recently gave Mt. Sima’s Great Northern Ski Society a $1.6-million grant to help build its new chairlift.

“I voted against giving money toward the ski lift,” said Irwin. “Because we have so many more pressing needs.

“I couldn’t help but think that money would have gone a long way if we’d donated that much to the food bank,” she said.

“We have a responsibility to take care of our citizens.

“And we have a lot of poverty and homelessness here.”

Last year, Northern City Supportive Housing Coalition spent more than 1,000 volunteer hours drafting a proposal to build a 20-room supported apartment complex downtown for the city’s hardest to house.

By March, the housing coalition had found land, obtained zoning approval, recruited an architect who volunteered time and even had a builder lined up.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation was on board, and gave the group $10,000 in seed funding.

And the coalition had backing from several banks.

All it needed was $900,000 from Health and Social Services to get the ball rolling and start breaking ground.

But that money never materialized, even though the Yukon Party government had roughly $18 million in affordable housing money sitting unused in the bank.

“I couldn’t believe Northern City’s proposal fell by the wayside,” said Irwin.

“I was horrified by that.”

Instead of helping buy a new chairlift, council could have supported Northern City, she said.

The city committed to supporting Mt. Sima, said Roberts.

“We are the property owner there, so we are protecting our asset.

“And if we can get it over the hump, we can have a successful Arctic Winter Games.”

But affordable housing is a whole different story, she said.

“It’s not our mandate.

“We do what we can with land incentives.

“But we don’t want to poke our nose where it doesn’t belong.”

“It’s easy to push this responsibility off on someone else, and say we’ve never been involved in affordable housing,” said Irwin.

“But just because it’s never been done before, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be open to new ways of thinking.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s Ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner, filed a petition on Dec. 11 after her office was barred from accessing documents related to a child and family services case. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government rejects Ombudsman requests for documentation filed to Supreme Court

Diane McLeod-McKay filed a petition on Dec. 11 after requests for documents were barred

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens, left, celebrates his first NHL goal with defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen during the second period of a game against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 22 in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)
Cozens notches first NHL goal in loss to Capitals

The Yukoner potted his first tally at 10:43 of the second period on Jan. 22

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, actress charged after flying to Beaver Creek for COVID-19 vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Industrial Road bus stop relocated

Transit users making their way on routes along Industrial Road will notice… Continue reading

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

Most Read