Graham considers supportive housing

The Northern City Affordable Housing Coalition wants to build a 20-unit facility to help the Yukon’s hardcore homeless alcoholics with the aid of federal housing money that’s being administered by the territory.

The Yukon government is giving another look at a plan to help the territory’s hardest to house.

The Northern City Affordable Housing Coalition wants to build a 20-unit facility to help the Yukon’s hardcore homeless alcoholics with the aid of federal housing money that’s being administered by the territory.

The coalition withdrew from talks with the government this autumn after six months of silence from officials. Now those officials are willing to talk again, Health Minister Doug Graham told the legislature on Dec.15.

“I believe we already have a set appointment to meet with the Northern City Supportive Housing Coalition and go over some of the problems,” he said.

Talks are set for this week.

The coalition proposal is a controversial one. They want to give Whitehorse’s hardest to house a place to live – and to drink.

Called Housing First, it challenges the conventional wisdom that many homeless people choose to sleep on the street, and that quitting drinking is primarily a matter of willpower.

It turns out that coping with alcoholism and its attendant ills is a lot easier with a roof over your head.

In Seattle, a similar project was dubbed “Bunks for Drunks” by critics who wondered why the state should subsidize destructive behaviour.

But Seattle now estimates it saves $4 million annually by helping some of the city’s hardest-to-house clients. The coalition believes this approach would save money in Whitehorse where hardcore alcoholics also threaten to overwhelm the resources of the police, ambulances and emergency room nurses.

In 2009-10, the emergency room faced 1,744 alcohol-related admissions. That’s approximately five a day.

Just 22 clients accounted for a third of these admissions. Three people were admitted 60 times or more. That’s more than once a week.

The Yukon government has $16.5 million in federal funds earmarked for affordable housing received between 2008 and 2010 that remains unspent. The coalition hopes to see its project funded with a piece of that.

The coalition project’s total cost is expected to be $1.8 million. The housing coalition hopes to get half of that from the government.

The remainder would be leveraged from a bank once government funding is in place.

But for that to happen, the territory would also need to commit to providing the project with an annual operating grant, expected to cost nearly $500,000.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com