You can still smell the paint on the walls, but the advocates responsible for a new supportive living building in Whitehorse are not wasting any time getting started.
They’re celebrating the new apartment building that opened yesterday to help people living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Known as Dun Kenji Ku – The People’s Place – the new apartment building on 4th Avenue has 14 units to house 16 people. It will provide a chance to live independently, with staff on duty to help out if necessary.
People start moving in next week.
Volunteers along with politicians from every level of government crammed themselves into one of the apartments for the official unveiling on Tuesday afternoon.
Both the territorial and federal governments funded the $3-million building. The City of Whitehorse waived the development fees and property taxes.
The new building will be run by Whitehorse’s Options for Independence Society.
The society’s president, Sharon Hickey, said the building and the program are designed to be a part of the community, not a standalone facility.
“This is meant to be housing. The tenants who come bring their services with them. So if they’re already working at Challenge or going there, they’ll still do that. If they work at Wal-Mart, they’ll do that,” she said.
Brad Cathers, the minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation, told the crowd the government recognizes the importance of housing.
“Housing is an important building block for improving the quality of life for people living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder,” he said.
“With a foundation of safe and affordable housing, the Options for Independence Society is better able to address residents’ complex needs by providing support services and connecting people to local community resources.”
Hickey said she hopes the housing will mean more stability, a better quality of life and less use of emergency services for residents.
A committee chose the residents based on referrals from the community.
Eight people who were living in a six-plex next door are moving in, along with eight new residents.
“Some of them are couch surfing, some of them live with their parents, some of them are in different rented spaces that Health and Social Services pays for,” Hickey said.
Either their First Nation or Health and Social Services will pay the social assistance rate for rent in the new building.
The Health Department will contribute $553,000 annually to the building’s operation and maintenance.
There’s been no decision on what will happen to the six-plex once it is empty. It will go back into Yukon Housing’s stock of buildings.
Years ago, a program like this would not have been on anyone’s mind.
“Myself, and people like (Health and Social Services) Minister (Doug) Graham were in the legislature in the 70s and in the 80s, and that’s when we recognized the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome,” said Yukon’s senator, Dan Lang.
“We were the first jurisdiction to do that. Over time we’ve been able to respond to a very serious social situation in our community.”
Hickey told the group about arriving in the territory in May 1998 and finding a group of government and NGO representatives designing a half-way house for offenders leaving the Whitehorse Correctional Centre who were believed to have FASD.
“One day the question was, ‘Why do we have to wait until they’re in trouble? Why do we have to wait until they’re offenders?’” she said.
That’s when the idea for the Options for Independence Society was born.
“Fifteen years ago, no one could have foreseen that not only would we be around, we’d have our own custom-designed building and will have more than doubled our capacity to provide supportive housing for people believed to have FASD,” she said.
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