Yukon’s lack of supportive housing and emergency shelters continues to affect vulnerable Yukoners.
Housing for people exiting prisons, addicted to drugs or alcohol, affected by mental health challenges, and low-income women “is practically nonexistent,” according to a report released yesterday by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.
“We have seen a slight increase in our vacancy rate, but it’s not affordable, it’s not accessible,” said Heather Ashthorn with Blood Ties Four Directions Centre. She noted that some upscale downtown condo suites rent out for upwards of $1,600. “It doesn’t touch the vulnerable populations that we’re looking at serving.”
This is the second progress report the coalition has issued on the housing shortage. It found some improvements, but still much to be desired.
“There are real partnerships and different organizations taking ownership of the housing issues,” said the coalition’s chair, Bill Thomas.
The city has expressed interest in developing a 10-year plan to end homelessness, and it has identified attainable housing as one of its top five priorities. Yukon Housing Corp. has launched a five-year strategic plan for housing. And the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations have teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to build a triplex at the Takhini River subdivision.
The coalition also emphasized tangible achievements. One is the creation of a “tiny house” for a hard-up client who would otherwise not be able to find a place to rent. The project has been named after Steve Cardiff, an NDP MLA who fought for the homeless, who died in a car crash two years ago.
“The Steve Cardiff House is successfully housing one person, and this is the second person that moved through the house,” said Kristina Craig, co-ordinator of the coalition.
Craig also admitted that the coalition could use more concrete targets. “Although you don’t want to put numbers on people, we need to put numbers on need. And if we need 20 family units for people with FASD, we should be able to say that as a community, and I personally don’t think we’re there yet,” she said.
Although the coalition does not provide services to homeless people or those seeking affordable housing, Craig said they do more than just advocacy. The group holds three “connects days” annually, where people can get haircuts and footcare. In October, they spend a week building awareness around poverty and homelessness. And the coalition plans to provide education for tenants and landlords around their rights and responsibilities through the “Tenant Wisdom Program.”
The coalition has also spawned a number of service-based organizations, including the Downtown Urban Garden Society, the Food Bank Society and the Yukon’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, “which is aiming to have 20 families housed by the end of 2017,” Craig added.
Asked if the coalition fears their funding would be axed based on Health and Social Services Minister Doug Graham’s comments to stop funding groups that do not provide services, Thomas said they are not threatened.
“Not at this point, because we haven’t been cut. We’re doing our work,” he said.
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