Free room and board at WCC

The only housing Joe Johnson can find is a shared cell at Whitehorse Correctional Centre. The 34-year-old is struggling with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and alcohol addiction. It's a bad combination.

The only housing Joe Johnson can find is a shared cell at Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

The 34-year-old is struggling with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and alcohol addiction.

It’s a bad combination.

“My life is right downhill,” said Johnson, (not his real name).

He came to the Yukon three years ago, from Edmonton, because he heard there was lots of work here.

“I didn’t know there was also a major shortage of housing,” he said.

He landed a job at the Superstore on night-shift and worked for a local delivery company during the day.

But Johnson couldn’t find a place to live.

“I was staying with my sister for a bit, but she has a family of her own and I didn’t want to intrude,” he said.

The hotels were booked up and Johnson ended up on the street.

From there, it didn’t take long until he was back in jail.

“I’ve been in and out of jail since I was 16,” he said.

His relationship with alcohol goes back even further.

“I started drinking when I was eight,” he said.

“It’s a shadow that follows me.”

Johnson has been “trying to get a handle” on his drinking, but it’s hard when he’s living on the streets.

It’s the drinking that keeps landing him in jail.

“Every time I do something wrong, it’s because I’m drunk,” he said.

“And people can’t say to me, (Joe) go home, because I have no home.

“So they send me to jail.”

But last time Johnson went to jail, it was intentional.

“I was out for six months, staying with friends, and on the street,” he said.

Social services wouldn’t pay for a tent and Johnson is banned from the Salvation Army because he got in a fight with one of the staff.

He’s banned from a number of local hotels for the same reasons.

“You’re past catches up with you,” he said.

By December, Johnson was freezing and desperate.

“So I decided to come back to jail,” he said.

It was easy enough.

“I just breached my probation,” he said. “I started drinking.”

This happens a lot, said Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon outreach worker Shelly Halverson.

“You get clients who breach (their probation) so they can go back to jail,” she said. “Because you can only go so long without housing.”

Halverson has 12 clients, all struggling with fetal alcohol syndrome, and more than half of them are homeless.

Some are at the campground, some are couch surfing or at the Salvation Army, while others are just walking the streets.

Whitehorse needs more supportive housing, she said.

“And I fully support the Northern City Supportive Housing proposal.”

Over the 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 – people like Johnson.

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 onboard, 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.

So Johnson sits in jail, worrying about his upcoming release.

“They are going to send me to the (Adult Resource Centre) first,” he said.

“But I don’t know where I will go after that.

“I can’t even go to the Salvation Army to eat.”

Johnson doesn’t deny he has anger issues.

“I get frustrated,” he said.

“And when I get frustrated, I go off – I don’t even remember what I said – and by then it’s too late.”

Halverson calls them “environmental triggers.”

“Anything from visual clutter, noise or fatigue to being given too much information can make a client angry,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as a language processing issue.

“Someone might be trying to help, but they are using too many words and when the client can’t process them, they get angry.”

People struggling with fetal alcohol syndrome battle an invisible disability.

And Halverson tries to assist each of her clients using a strength-based approach.

She goes with them to court, visits them in jail and works with other local NGOs to establish a safety net of supports.

“But when it comes to housing, our hands are tied,” she said.

“I have clients sleeping outside. And at the end of the day, when they can’t find housing, and you can’t find housing for them, it’s distressing.”

All the support services and agencies are dealing with the same issue, said Halverson.

“There’s just no housing, even for people who have jobs and money.”

And when her clients end up in jail, they lose their social assistance cheque, which means they lose whatever housing they had.

Then, once they’re out of jail, they have to sign up for social assistance and wait for a cheque before they can find a place, she said. And even then they likely won’t have money for first and last month’s rent, she said.

“It’s a huge barrier,” said Halverson.

Up at the jail, Johnson worries about his future.

He’s really good at math.

“I wanted to go to college to become a math tutor,” he said.

“But I have trouble sitting in school, because my attention span isn’t that long.

“But I want to do good, and get a hold of my drinking.

“I don’t want to end up totally screwed up.

“I just want a place where I can lay my head, because I haven’t had that since I’ve been up here.”

Then Johnson made light of it.

“Maybe I’ll dig a cave in the clay cliffs,” he said with a laugh.

“It would be my home.”

Sometimes, when despair starts creeping in, Johnson turns to humour.

“I just want to make people laugh,” he said.

“When I see them laugh, it makes my day.”

Although his situation is dire, Johnson is more worried about the well being of others.

“I know there are people less fortunate than me,” he said.

“That’s why I keep going everyday.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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

Just Posted

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

XX
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for May 5, 2021.… Continue reading

Crystal Schick/Yukon News Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speak at a COVID-19 update press conference in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. They formally announced that as of Nov. 20, anyone entering the territory (including Yukoners returning home) would be required to self-isolate with the exception of critical service workers, those exercising treaty rights and those living in B.C. border towns
Vaccinated people won’t have to self-isolate in the Yukon after May 25

Restaurants and bars will also be able to return to full capacity at the end of the month.

An RV pulls into Wolf Creek Campground to enjoy the first weekend of camping season on April 30, 2021. John Tonin/Yukon News
Opening weekend of Yukon campgrounds a ‘definite success’

The territorial campgrounds opened on April 30. Wolf Creek was the busiest park seeing 95 per cent of sites filled.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Letters to the editor.
Today’s mailbox: rent caps and vaccines

To Sandy Silver and Kate White Once again Kate White and her… Continue reading

Most Read