On the cusp of the Canada Winter Games, the Yukon Antipoverty coalition has struck a deal to make sure the homeless won’t be left out in the cold.
“About three months ago, at a meeting, people expressed a great deal of concern that if the Games were to come here, it may displace some existing services to people, particularly regarding shelter,” said George Green of the Antipoverty Coalition.
“We were worried that people would get moved out of hotels in favour of hotel owners wanting to spruce up their businesses and get ready for the Games — some of them are operating marginally and want to make some money during the Games, which is what we’re all into, I guess — we were concerned that this didn’t happen at the expense our clients.”
Green met with the departments of Health and Social Services and Indian and Northern Affairs as well as the Canada Winter Games Host Society to come up with a three-part plan to combat any increased need for services that might happen during the Games.
From the week before the event to the week after it, the Salvation Army will be open 24 hours a day for anybody needing food or counselling.
Health and Social Services will be picking up the tab for the Salvation Army’s extra expenses during this time.
The Whitehorse outreach van will also increase its operation from two to three nights per week.
The van, which normally carries food, clean needles and provides counselling for street people, will be stocked with extra food and supplies.
With funding from Indian and Northern Affairs, some hotel rooms have been booked in the Antipoverty Coalition’s name for people particularly down on their luck.
“There have been some hotels who have evicted people and done some renovations, but as far as we can see right now all of these people have been accommodated,” said Green.
“But in addition to that, in any given week in Whitehorse there are people moving into the city who are looking for assistance in terms of food and rooms.
“For example, we have people coming in from the communities who are family members of people who are ill and in the hospital and these family members may not have anywhere to stay or any resources, so they have traditionally been taken care of by the system.
“In a situation that we may find ourselves in as of next week, the system may want to take care of them, but there may be a capacity problem, so that’s why we put together this little plan to make sure that nobody is left on the street.
“We could still have some pretty cold weather yet.”
Not over prepared
Because Whitehorse is a small city with extreme cold temperatures, the homeless are not always visible like they are in Vancouver, he added.
“I don’t think we’re over preparing,” said Green. “If you can save somebody from freezing or starving then, well, I really don’t think we’re over prepared.
“Yesterday I did some rounds and I met with some people who have been evicted and I feel we’re OK, but I don’t think we’re overreacting.”
Other than the government, the coalition has received an outpouring of support from volunteers who want to help make sandwiches, muffins and soup to serve the hungry.
“It’s been a real team effort, it’s been very encouraging actually, because it just demonstrates yet again — what we’re unable to do individually, it’s easy to do collectively,” said Green.
“Together we really do things better.”