People pitch tent to protest housing problem

Helen Hollywood is tired of looking for affordable housing in Whitehorse, so she set up a tent on the lawn of the Yukon legislature in protest, Wednesday night. After spending the last three years living in hotels, couch surfing and camping out, she's fed up.

Helen Hollywood is tired of looking for affordable housing in Whitehorse, so she set up a tent on the lawn of the Yukon legislature in protest, Wednesday night.

After spending the last three years living in hotels, couch surfing and camping out, she’s fed up.

“I’ve come to the point where enough is enough,” she said.

Hollywood and her friend Linda Hewins-Khosravi plan to camp out on the lawn until the government takes action on housing.

They have the blessing of the territorial opposition parties.

New Democrats and Liberals pledged their support.

The government has turned a blind eye to the housing crisis, said New Democrat Steve Cardiff.

“They’ve just ignored it,” he said, noting the government has been sitting on more than $17 million in money earmarked for social housing for years.

“It’s disgusting, is what it is,” he said.

The Liberals were just as blunt.

“It’s nothing short of a callous lack of compassion on the part of our government,” said Liberal Darius Elias. “These guys got to go.”

It wasn’t the only protest at the legislature yesterday.

Norcope Enterprises was also protesting a Yukon government contracting decision.

While Hollywood had pitched a tent on the lawn, Norcope had several pieces of heavy equipment parked around the building.

Norcope’s protest helped inspire Hollywood’s own civil disobedience.

“That’s what got me motivated,” said Hollywood. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, the government is ripping you off.”

It’s sad that people have to take to the streets to be heard by the government, said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

“Is that what it’s come to?” he asked. “Things only get done when people come out and picket.”

Hollywood came to the Yukon from Edmonton in the late ‘70s to escape the city.

“I was sick of shopping and all that,” she said. “I wanted to come and walk the land.”

Her housing trouble started three years ago.

That was the first time that she had to live in a hotel.

Not only is it expensive, but there is a complete lack of privacy, said Hollywood.

“They’ll take your $1,000, but you can’t do this and that. You can’t even have any visitors.”

Once Hollywood was kicked out for having her nephew and niece stop by to visit, she said.

In the summer, hotels kick out long-term tenants for tourists.

“Tourists come first here,” said Hollywood.

She had a campsite at the Robert Service Campground, but was kicked out for plugging a microwave and a coffee maker into the bathroom wall sockets.

“My camping skills suck,” she said.

Hollywood wants an apartment, but after a string of rejections has given up.

She wants the Landlord and Tenant Act fixed.

That’s something the business community also wants.

The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce has been lobbying to have the legislation updated for years, something they say the government has been putting off.

Revamping the law would help owners and renters, said chamber president Rick Karp.

“It’s a desperate situation we have right now,” he said,” People are living in circumstances that aren’t the best.”

Hollywood agrees.

“I was up in Granger in a basement with no heat,” she said. “You can’t bitch about it because you’ll get kicked out.”

A report on the Landlord Tenant Act was presented last year, but is still under review.

How long that review will take isn’t known, said Ruth Koening, the acting director of consumer services.

There is legislation in place to protect landlords and tenants, and the department works to help both parties mediate disputes, said Koening.

“We’re very busy,” she said.

But Hollywood isn’t satisfied with the legislation.

“The Landlord Tenant Act sucks,” she said.

And landlords can choose to be picky in this market, said Hollywood.

Given the crisis, Hollywood can’t understand why the government is tearing down buildings, like the old nurse’s residence.

“They spend way too much on destruction,” she said.

Until she gets some answers, Hollywood plans on staying put.

“It’s a great spot,” she said, gesturing to the trees and the river beyond.

“And it’s free.”

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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