Samson Hartland had an overwhelming sense of deja vu while looking for a place to live this week.
He’s one of five people who took part in a shelter challenge organized by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.
The challenge was to find accommodations in just three days.
It was a lot like his experience moving to the Yukon back in 1992.
By day two, he was already exhausted.
“There’s no vacancy at any of the apartments in town,” he said.
“One landlord said don’t bother phoning until after November 1st.”
The Chilkoot Inn and Family Hotel had room, but they wanted $1,150 to $1,300 a month for rent.
“Talk about a real eye-opener.”
Hartland was pretending to be a 27-year-old father searching for an apartment with two children. His monthly income was only $1,500.
The whole experience brought back memories.
He was a child when he came to the Yukon with his two disabled parents during the territory’s boom period.
At the time, there were only two rental listings in the classifieds section.
One wasn’t available. The other listing was for a quarter section of someone’s basement for $1,200.
Without anywhere else to go, the family moved into the basement apartment, which eventually “bled them dry,” said Hartland, who now works at the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
They fell behind on their rent and ended up sleeping on the floor of the store they were starting up.
They were eventually discovered by the landlord and kicked out.
That’s when they went to the Whitehorse Housing Authority and were matched up with a social housing unit in the “Smurf village” up in Granger.
Taking part in the shelter challenge reminded him how difficult it is to be homeless.
“Talking on the phone with people today was definitely not pleasant,” he said.
“There’s some seriously rude people out there.”
Cindy Chiasson had much the same experience.
She played the role of a woman living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Hepatitis C who had been recently released from the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
“When I told one woman (who was renting her house) that I had hepatitis C she told me I wasn’t a good fit,” said Chiasson.
“And then when I told her I was part of the (shelter) challenge she got really mad.”
By day two, Chiasson still hadn’t found a place to stay.
“There’s lots of discrimination out there,” she said explaining that she’s experienced much of this frustration firsthand.
When Chiasson moved up to the Yukon she had her three grandchildren in tow.
Many of the landlords she spoke with refused to rent to her because she had kids and they were worried they would damage the place.
“Now, I work two jobs and I still find it difficult to make ends meet,” she said.
In past years, the poverty coalition has focused on what it’s like to live on the streets.
“This year, while it’s still a concern, we wanted to show people there’s not enough permanent places for people to live,” said organizer Debbie Thomas.
The vacancy rate is less than one per cent in the Yukon.
“For many people – not just the working poor, affluent people too – there’s a severe shortage of housing.”
Contact Vivian Belik at