Lessons from Yellowknife

Last week I had the pleasure and the privilege of representing the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition at a No Place For Poverty workshop held in Yellowknife. What a powerful few days it was.

Last week I had the pleasure and the privilege of representing the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition at a No Place For Poverty workshop held in Yellowknife. What a powerful few days it was.

Representatives from 20 communities and 29 organizations attended the workshop. The first comment made by the organizers was, “There is no affordable housing in Yellowknife.”

Doesn’t that sound familiar? The second comment was, “Together we can get it done.” What a refreshing idea.

The group proceeded to listen to speakers and generate solutions to the problems of poverty and homelessness.

The volume of ideas and proposals was pretty impressive and very inspiring.

Comments made during the work session included:

“When is relief coming?”

“Many of us are one paycheque away from poverty.”

“People with two jobs are still working poor.”

“This is a land of plenty for fewer and fewer of us.”

“We need the personal and political will to address the issues of homelessness and deep poverty.”

I was struck by the similarities to our own community. How many of us are one paycheque away from poverty or losing our home? How many Whitehorse residents struggle to make ends meet even though we work two jobs? How many of us would be in difficult straits if our vehicle broke down? Our health started to fail? Our spouse died?

And on the housing front, did you know that during the summer, the Beez Kneez hostel’s 12 beds were full every night? That the Salvation Army was at capacity almost every night? That Health and Social Services used the Robert Service Campground as an appropriate housing option for its clients? Or that young professionals are leaving because they cannot find appropriate, affordable housing?

We have a 0.6 per cent vacancy rate in the rental market and that’s not good for anyone.

So, I’m hoping we can learn from the key recommendations from the Yellowknife workshop:

a) Government, business, communities and nongovernment organizations must work in partnership to develop a poverty-reduction strategy with legislation.

b) There must be easier access to affordable public housing, caps on rents, and more transitional housing.

c) Affordable, publicly funded and delivered child care must be universally accessible, all based on the Quebec model.

d) Communities must be empowered to create solutions to poverty that address local conditions.

The Yukon is in the midst of developing its own Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Strategy. Members of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition are hopeful this strategy, led by the Department of Health and Social Services, will result in the community (including governments) taking on these tough issues, understanding them and making change. It needs to be a priority for all of us.

But before we can do that, we need to see the extent of the issues in question. We are looking forward to the release of background information collected by the Yukon government so we all know and better understand our community and the challenges facing many residents.

And on the affordable housing front, work has to be done to begin solving this complicated issue. That’s why we have invited Michael Shapcott, director of affordable housing and social innovation at the Wellesley Institute, to spend Poverty and Homelessness Action Week with us to share his many experiences. He will be meeting with government officials, NGOs, businesses and individuals over the next few days, as well as discussing options for Whitehorse at Home to Roost on Thursday, October 14, 7 p.m., at the Yukon Inn.

Our coalition is offering many activities, exhibits and opportunities to take action against poverty during Poverty and Homelessness Action Week. And we welcome everyone’s participation.

Please join us.

Together we can get it done!

Tonight’s Sleeping Rough Rally starts at 8:30 p.m. Meet at the vacant lot across from the Salvation Army.

Whitehorse Connects is taking place on Thursday, October 14th from 10 to 3 at the Old Fire Hall, offering free health and human services for those in need.

Also on Thursday, Home to Roost, a public presentation by Michael Shapcott, starts at 7 p.m. at the Yukon Inn’s Fireside Room.

There’s a photo exhibit in the territorial government building’s lobby all week.

And there’s free access to the Canada Games Centre all day Saturday, October 16. Donations for the Food Bank are welcome.

Bill Thomas is co-chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, chair of its Housing Task Force and a member of the Community Advisory Committee for the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Strategy. He

lives in Whitehorse.

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