No homeless hotels here

Whitehorse's hardest-to-house lost a champion this week. The Northern City Supportive Housing Coalition is withdrawing its proposal to build a 20-room supported apartment complex in downtown Whitehorse.

Whitehorse’s hardest-to-house lost a champion this week.

The Northern City Supportive Housing Coalition is withdrawing its proposal to build a 20-room supported apartment complex in downtown Whitehorse.

“We’re extremely disappointed,” said the coalition’s Kate Mechan, who gave more than 1,000 volunteer hours to get the proposal to the table.

The supported housing project was to target 20 clients who frequent the Salvation Army shelter.

“They are society’s most marginalized and vulnerable,” said Mechan.

“And now they’ve been shoved to the fringes again.”

By March, the housing coalition had found land, obtained zoning approval, recruited an architect who volunteered time and even had a builder lined up.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation was onboard, giving the group $10,000 in seed funding.

And the coalition had backing from several banks.

All it needed was support from Health and Social Services to get the ball rolling and start breaking ground.

The Yukon government is sitting on $18 million in federal housing money.

The coalition had requested $900,000.

In March, the department assured the coalition it would have its answer by June.

But June came and went.

Despite frequent attempts to reach the department, Mechan heard nothing.

“It’s pretty disrespectful,” she said.

All the folks on the steering committee have put in hundreds and hundreds of hours working on the business plan and proposal, she said.

“And we have all these other parties on our building team, like the architect, and the builders, the property owners, banks and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation – we can’t just leave them in limbo.

“It’s not professional.”

So, the coalition is calling it quits.

“We can’t keep waiting around just because the government can’t come to the table and act like an adult,” said Mechan.

“All we wanted was to sit down and talk – not leave it hanging for four months.”

Now another winter is coming, she said.

“And the clients we were working to support are going to be in the exact same position.”

While the Yukon government sits mute, its neighbours in Alaska have been working hard to eliminate homelessness.

In the last few months, Alaska’s state housing authority has helped purchase two hotels, one in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks.

The single-occupancy hotel rooms are going to be used to house the city’s homeless.

“Every year in Anchorage we have eight to 15 (homeless) freeze to death,” said Jeff Jessee.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust CEO is behind the projects, which were inspired by housing-first models in Seattle and Minnesota.

“We’ve had politicians wringing their hands about our chronic public inebriates problem,” said Jessee.

But when he suggested giving these homeless addicts a place to live, Jessee met with opposition.

Local politicians didn’t like the homeless camping in public parks and in parking lots, but they didn’t want to house them either, he said.

So Jessee approached the politicos most opposed to the housing projects and invited them to Seattle to see it in action.

“In Seattle, there was concern that the neighbours would be opposed, and initially they were,” he said.

A Marriott down the road didn’t want to share the block with a homeless hotel.

But when its owners suddenly noticed that the homeless were no longer hanging around outside their doors, they changed their tune.

“The police are the biggest supporters, because they deal with these folks all the time,” said Jessee.

Suddenly the cops noticed they were no longer carting passed out regulars to the drunk tank, he said.

The hospital’s emergency room also saw a huge drop in call volume.

“What people don’t realize is that this is not just some bleeding heart liberal initiative,” said Jessee.

“It is backed by the police and hospitals.

“People don’t realize what heavy consumers of health care these people are.”

By the time the Anchorage junket came back from Seattle, the doubting politicos were convinced.

No only were the police and hospitals getting fewer calls, the tenants in the hotel also found themselves drinking less, and their health improved, said Jessee.

Alaska’s government bought a downtown hotel and kicked-off its own housing-first program.

After hearing about Anchorage’s new homeless hotel initiative, Fairbanks decided to follow suit.

The Fairbanks building is being run by a First Nation consortium.

So, instead of sending this group to Seattle, Jessee found a similar First Nation coalition in Minnesota, which was running a housing-first program, and sent the chiefs there.

Just like Seattle, the Duluth, Minnesota, model was a huge success.

It had removed the strain on local hospitals and law enforcement and its clients’ health and lives had improved significantly.

“You hear so many people say, ‘These people want to be homeless,’” said Jessee.

But Anchorage had no problem filling its 45 new rooms with tenants.

“And you hear people say, ‘These people want to drink,’” he said.

But, the people who finally got housing in Seattle had been through treatment 15 times, said Jessee.

“So it’s not that these people want to drink, we just don’t know how to help them stop drinking.”

Giving them housing and the stability that comes with it is a good first step, said Jessee.

“Once in housing, we’ve noticed their drinking goes down significantly.”

The Fairbanks homeless hotel will be open by December.

And Jessee hopes Yukon politicians and government employees come visit.

“We would love to host you guys,” he said.

“Or we could help set things up for your government to visit Seattle or Duluth,” he said.

“We’d be happy to help you guys set something like this up.”

But that’s exactly what the Yukon’s Northern Housing Coalition was trying to do.

Mechan and the coalition spent a year of their lives working on this proposal because they “really wanted to help these people,” she said.

But the Yukon government refused to come to the table.

“Even if you don’t think they’re deserving of help, you can argue that the costs to taxpayers go down when you house these people,” said Jessee.

“We’d be happy to organize a trip here, so your government officials can see that it works.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Connie Peggy Thorn, 52, pleaded guilty Jan. 27 to manslaughter in the 2017 death of Greg Dawson. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse woman pleads guilty to manslaughter in death of Greg Dawson

Connie Thorn, 52, was arrested in October 2019 and pleaded guilty in Supreme Court on Jan. 27.

Abigail Jirousek, left, is tailed by Brian Horton while climbing a hill during the Cross Country Yukon January Classic in Whitehorse on Jan. 23. Jirousek finished second in the U16 girls category. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Cross Country Yukon hosts classic race

Cross Country Yukon hosted a classic technique cross-country ski race on Jan.… Continue reading

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver talks to media on March 5, 2020. The Yukon government said Jan. 25 that it is disappointed in a decision by the federal government to send the Kudz Ze Kayah mining project back to the drawing board. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Territorial and federal governments at odds over Kudz Ze Kayah mine project

The federal government, backed by Liard First Nation, sent the proposal back to the screening stage

asdf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Jan. 27, 2021

Yukon RCMP said in a press release that they are seeing an increase in tinted front passenger windows and are reminding people that it is illegal and potentially dangerous. (RCMP handout)
RCMP warn against upward trend of tinted windows

Yukon RCMP are seeing more vehicles with tinted front passenger windows, prompting… Continue reading

An arrest warrant has been issued for a 22-year-old man facing two tickets violating the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em>. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Arrest warrant issued for CEMA violation

An arrest warrant has been issued for Ansh Dhawan over two tickets for violating CEMA

The office space at 151 Industrial Road in Marwell. At Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 25 meeting, members voted to sign off on the conditional use approval so Unit 6 at 151 Industrial Rd. can be used for office space. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Marwell move set for land and building services staff

Conditional use, lease approved for office space

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

Most Read