Looking for solutions

Bill Thomas Special to the News Helen Hollywood started a tent city on the lawns of the legislature. She may have a movie name, but this is not a movie we are watching. This is a real and very serious situation in front of us.

Helen Hollywood started a tent city on the lawns of the legislature. She may have a movie name, but this is not a movie we are watching. This is a real and very serious situation in front of us.

I’m talking about poverty and homelessness. It’s not going away and neither are we.

There is a substantial community of concerned citizens and organizations willing to work towards reducing poverty and eliminating homelessness. Bernie Pauly, a Poverty and Homelessness Action Week speaker in 2009, reminded us the poor may always be with us, but not the homeless.

The Yukon government just finished negotiating another $3 million from the federal government to be matched by a territorial contribution for more affordable housing. We know there is at least $16.5 million of Northern Housing Trust Fund money that has sat idle for years. We know we have the resources; what has been lacking is the commitment and determination to move forward on the critical housing agenda in a comprehensive way.

We all acknowledge the work done on housing over the last few years, mainly housing for seniors. There are a number of ongoing projects, which could provide some relief from the housing crunch. Now that the election has been called, we are thankful to be hearing strategies to solve the crisis. We can eliminate homelessness! And that should be our goal.

It is often said that if we can’t eliminate homelessness with a population of 35,000, who can? I agree. Let’s just do it.

Some tell us to think outside the box about the burden of poverty. OK. How about a guaranteed annual income (GAI) for the territory? A cost-benefit analysis of a GAI is possible to do with our smaller population. There is evidence of the merit of such a program. And as Conservative Senator Hugh Segal told us at the Yukon Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Symposium in April 2010, the Yukon is well placed to try it.

Members of YAPC thought it was time for us to talk about these and other issues in a new and open way. So, on Tuesday, we hosted Let’s Talk … A Community Conversation about Poverty. This event was a unique opportunity to bring a diverse group of people together to discuss the issue of poverty – those living it, those working on the frontline, those making decisions about it and those who want to learn more.

And what a success it was. Thank you to all who attended. And thank you for sharing your stories. The conversations were wide ranging, thoughtful, sometimes invigorating, sometimes hard. They included topics from housing, youth, services and training to social assistance, how to be heard and what impact poverty has on our community. Some people came to find out more, some came desperate for a helping hand, some came with great ideas.

One of the final questions coming at the end of the evening was: “What should we be asking candidates when we see them?”

Here are just a few of the responses. Feel free to ask them yourself.

* What concrete actions will you commit to for ameliorating poverty in the Yukon?

* How will you provide job training that results in a permanent job – not short-term positions?

* How will you communicate to Yukoners that helping others enriches us all, that money put into poverty reduction is not just helping a few, but all of us?

* How will you remove barriers for the homeless to be enumerated? How will you get their vote out?

* How will you hear my voice?

* How will you listen?

* What would you do in the first year of your term to help close the gap between rich and poor in the Yukon?

* What will you do about Social Assistance rates?

* Would you raise minimum wages?

* If your party forms government, what is going to be different by Christmas?

* What are the key issues contributing to poverty in this territory? How can these issues be addressed?

* What is your short-, medium- and long-term approach to finding solutions?

* What is your approach to finding a solution?

* What is your approach to manage the solutions once we see the problems? Without saying it’s impossible?

* What elements would be included in a comprehensive approach to reducing poverty?

* What will you do about the tent city NOW?

The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition would like to thank the Kebabery, G&P Pizza, Tony’s Pizza, the Deli,

Alpine Bakery, Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters and the numerous volunteers who provided food and support during the evening.

Stay tuned for the next Let’s Talk … YAPC is happy to host.

Bill Thomas is co-chair of the Yukon Anti-poverty Coalition and chair of the housing task force. This column is provided courtesy of the coalition.