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Housing planned for homeless with mental illnesses

A transitional home for homeless or hard-to-house people with mental illnesses is scheduled to open in July.

A transitional home for homeless or hard-to-house people with mental illnesses is scheduled to open in July.

The Yukon Department of Health and Social Services put out a request for proposals last week looking for a non-profit group to help run the facility.

The paperwork is available on the government tender website but the department has refused to comment since Friday.

“An announcement is imminent,” spokesperson Pat Living said yesterday.

According to the documents, the new facility will house people with “diagnosed, persistent mental health challenges” who are homeless or in an unstable housing environment.

The facility will be run as a partnership between the Department of Health and whatever group is chosen, the tender says.

Daily management of the building and staffing it 24/7 with a team of support workers will be the responsibility of the non-profit.

Therapeutic or medical needs will fall to Health and Social Services.

The facility will be managed by a “mental health practitioner” employed by the Health Department, according to the documents.

“The focus of the transitional housing will be to provide clients with both stabilization and skill development,” the paperwork says. Stabilization would include “increased mental health support through treatment, counselling and medication adjustments.”

The Health Department will be in charge of coming up with a plan for each resident that might include connecting them with other resources like alcohol and drug services, doctors or psychiatrists.

Skills programs include cooking, finances, cleaning, and reading skills development.

People are expected to be able to live there for between six months and two years.

The idea is to aim for “realistic integration into an independent living situation.”

The building, on Fourth Avenue, appears to be the former home of the Options of Independence Society. When that group, which offers supportive living for people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, moved into a bigger facility in February of last year, the building went back into government stock.

There’s no word on if any upgrades or renovations have been done on it since then.

The building will house between five and 10 transitional clients at any given time, the document says.

It has five self-contained units, an office and a small common space.

Suites have two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, an eating area and a living area.

The units may be used for either single or double occupancy, depending on a person’s situation.

Detailed criteria for who might qualify to live there is still being worked on by the government.

Along with a mental illness, residents may have substance abuse problems but cannot have any significant cognitive deficit, the documents say.

The person has to be willing to follow a treatment plan.

Residents can’t be Yukon Review Board clients or be under any other order from court.

Groups who submit a proposal are being asked for a budget. It’s unclear how much the government is willing to spend.

The plan could be seen as the Yukon Party’s response to a plan championed by non-profits in recent years but ultimately rejected by the government.

The idea, called Housing First, would have given some of Whitehorse’s hardest to house a place to live - and to drink. The idea is that fighting alcoholism is a lot easier to do when you have a roof over your head.

Several years ago a coalition of groups proposed building 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. There were some meetings with territorial health reps, but that project died.

The new transitional home similarly targets people who are hard to house. Though the focus is on people with mental illnesses, the plans say some could also have substance abuse problems.

However, everyone at the new facility has to be willing to comply with treatment plans.

It is difficult to say how many homeless people there are in the Yukon.

In 2010, the Whitehorse Housing Adequacy Study concluded there were upwards of 107 homeless people in Whitehorse that April and May. That included people in the homeless shelter, but also those who were camping, squatting in abandoned buildings, or couch-surfing.

Those numbers came from a questionnaire designed by the Yukon Antipoverty Coalition and the Yukon Bureau of Statistics. It was distributed to Whitehorse residents who receive social assistance, those on the affordable housing waiting list, and those who frequent various non-profits that offer social support.

Bill Thomas, co-chair of the antipoverty coalition, said the organization is always in favour of more supportive living. But the question remains where clients will go after they leave the transition home to live independently, he said.

“It certainly is an important part of a solution, but it’s missing a big chunk,” he said.

It’s important that rent be affordable for when people are ready to live on their own, he said.

“We aren’t talking about people that are in income groups that can consider private ownership,” he said.

“Even though prices are coming down in Yukon, they’re still not anywhere near the kind of price levels that the coalition is interested in.”

The tender looking for a non-profit to run the new building will be awarded by May 15.

Contact Ashley Joannou at