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Housing First takeover won’t result in program, staffing changes

The John Howard Society says they aren’t looking to fix what isn’t broken
A Housing First project on Fifth Avenue and Wood Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 5, 2019. The John Howard Society and Council of Yukon First Nations will take over on April 6. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

The planned takeover of the Housing First residence on Wood Street won’t result in any immediate changes to service or staffing, according to the building’s new operator.

The John Howard Society will take over the building’s day-to-day operations on April 6 in partnership with the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN), which will pick up cultural support and services.

The Housing First model aims to provide permanent housing to vulnerable people. Its first residents moved in last March.

“We recognize that we are taking over a program that, in many ways, is running well and met needs, so it wasn’t a case of takingit over because there were any specific issues that needed to be addressed,” said Mark Miller, CEO of John Howard Society Pacific.

The John Howard Society entered the Yukon’s non-profit ecosystem last May, when it opened a halfway house in a retrofitted unit of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

Miller said that while the society is known for serving justice-involved clients, the pacific branch of the society has a wider mandate of community safety well suited to Housing First.

“We do a lot of work in the housing area in British Columbia, employment and wraparound supports to individuals with complex needs,” Miller said.

The society announced a new partnership with CYFN on Feb. 9. Miller told the News that the partnership will aid culturally safe operations at the Housing First residence.

“(We’re) recognizing we have a lot to learn about the Yukon and, in particular, services required by Indigenous people,” Miller said.

The CYFN will provide a “guiding voice” involved with case management and gaps in service for Indigenous residents, Miller explained.

There are no plans to halt currently operational services or lay off any staff, he continued.

The Housing First residence currently houses 18 people in 16 units. Residents are chosen using a by-name list stewarded by the local non-profit Safe at Home. A range of service providers worked to consider those most in need of 24-hour supports, explained Kate Mechan, Safe at Home executive director.

Mechan added that the residence appears to have succeeded in its mandate during its first year.

“There’s been no evictions in the first year that I know of,” Mechan said.

“The fact that they’ve managed to navigate whatever tricky situations there might be and support people to maintain their housing — that’s really amazing, and that’s a testament to the work of the staff and the relationships that they’ve built.”

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at