Last week, Mary Amerongen took one of her clients home for a couple of nights.
“I preferred to know where she was, so I took her to my place,” said the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Society of Yukon support worker.
Unable to find a place to live, after the house she was renting was sold, the severely disabled woman ended up on the street.
After four attempts to find her a place, Amerongen was able to get a room for her client in a downtown hotel.
“It’s not a good place for her,” said Amerongen.
“She’s going to get exploited — she needs supervised housing.
“She can’t function on her own.”
The room costs more than her social assistance housing allowance and the fetal alcohol society is paying to store the woman’s belongings. They won’t fit in the room.
“People will end up taking her food,” said Amerongen.
“But at least she’s not on the street.”
Amerongen’s other client is also living in “highly unsuitable housing.”
Her rent is so high it eats up most of her food money, she said.
“It leaves her about $30 a month for food. And this woman also needs supervised housing — she needs her visitors supervised,” said Amerongen.
A young man struggling with the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome lives in an unheated garage downtown.
He sleeps on a mat on the floor, said fetal alcohol society support worker Marge MacLeod.
“He’s very disabled, but he doesn’t smoke, drink or do drugs,” she said. “He works the nightshift at Wal-Mart.
“We just can’t find a place for him.”
Currently, the fetal alcohol society has nine clients without housing in Whitehorse.
“It’s very hard when people say to you day after day, ‘Couldn’t I just sleep at your place tonight?’” said society executive director Judy Pakozdy.
On Thursday afternoon, Pakozdy sounded worn out.
“I just had a kid leave here. His final words, after I gave him every penny I had for food were, ‘Must be nice to have a house,’” said Pakozdy, who is retiring soon.
“It’s a good thing I’m leaving because hope is running dry.”
At least it’s getting warmer, she said.
“It’s not as acute as it was a couple of months ago, when it was devastating some days to not know where they were.
“But we’ve almost made it through winter and they haven’t died — that’s an achievement.”
Over the last year and a half, three fetal alcohol clients have lived with workers for extended periods, said Pakozdy.
“But some clients have really intense needs, and these can’t be met by someone coming home and being nice to them.”
On Monday, one of Pakozdy’s clients, a woman in her 20s, slept on the street.
Most of them find a “friend,” especially the girls, said Pakozdy.
“It’s not safe for them.”
“At least nine people — and that’s just here in Whitehorse — are living in deplorable conditions because we are failing them,” said NDP Leader Todd Hardy during question period on Thursday.
“One man, for example, is sleeping on a foamie in an old mould-infested garage downtown, with no insulation and no running water. That’s reality. He pays for electricity when he can afford it.
“What is (Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers) doing for this man, and others like him, who are shut out of the rental market that has no place for them?”
These individuals should contact the social services branch, said Cathers, in response.
“If they are on or in need of social assistance, and if they have issues with housing, they can work either with the officials in my department or with Yukon Housing Corporation,” he said.
But the housing corporation wait list is long, said Amerongen.
The client who just got a room in a downtown hotel has been accepted by Whitehorse Housing, but Amerongen was told it would be “many months” until a place became available.
Whitehorse Housing also needs supervised housing, she said.
For 12 years, Amerongen worked in low-income housing in Edmonton with live-in caretakers.
“The result was overwhelmingly positive,” she said.
The trouble with fetal alcohol is the disability is often invisible, said Pakozdy.
“Some people are still at the stage where they look at them and think, ‘They look normal, they bloody well better act normal,’ and they can’t.”
On Thursday, Pakozdy learned Whitehorse transit manager Dave Muir would no longer issue free bus passes to clients with fetal alcohol disorder.
“He changed the rules, so the passes will only be free for severely disabled people,” said Pakozdy.
That’s always been the case, said Muir on Friday.
“Nobody gets a ride for free,” he said.
“Even when you use the Handy Bus you have to pay.
“Some people may have slipped through the cracks, but we are doing a review of all the applicants to make sure anybody that is on the program now absolutely needs it and meets the criteria.
“Nobody’s discounting that anybody might have a disability, but the severity of the disability has to be such that you can’t use the regular transit service in a regular basis.”
That’s just one more straw for Pakozdy.
“I really believed 30 years ago that if people knew about this disability and what it does to people’s brains they would just leap onside and help,