Sluggish second stage housing

Christmas is usually quiet at Kaushee's Place. But this year, the Whitehorse transition home for women fleeing violence was so crowded that some women ended up sleeping on couches.

Christmas is usually quiet at Kaushee’s Place.

But this year, the Whitehorse transition home for women fleeing violence was so crowded that some women ended up sleeping on couches.

“Usually, over Christmas, women stay at home, even if they’re experiencing violence,” said Yukon Women’s Transition Home Society executive director Barb McInerney. “But this was the busiest Christmas we’ve ever seen.

“We’re full and our housing is in a critical state.”

On Tuesday, the Yukon government committed $4.5 million for new second stage housing in Whitehorse.

This includes the $1 million promised to Kaushee’s last July to put out a request for proposals.

But that money was never used.

It took a long time for the territorial government and the transition home society to get a request for proposals together, said Women’s Directorate spokesperson Brenda Barnes on Wednesday.

“They started in the fall, but people go away on holidays and we wanted to make sure all the details were right.”

The request for proposals is still not out.

But the 10-unit apartment building should be completed by 2013, said Elaine Taylor, the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate at a news conference Tuesday.

“The earlier the better,” said Taylor.

McInerney has been lobbying for additional housing units for the last 12 years.

“I started working at Kaushee’s in 2000,” she said. “And we could have used more second stage housing then.”

By 2005, McInerney had teamed up with local architect Jack Kobayashi and created a design and business plan for a 10-unit, second stage housing complex in downtown Whitehorse.

The building would have cost $3.2 million, according to estimates at the time.

But McInerney couldn’t get funding.

Now, more than six years later, the funding has finally come through.

But the government isn’t using Kobayashi’s plans.

Instead, it’s starting from scratch.

“We’re looking for a contractor to bring to the table the full package – the land, the design and the construction,” said Taylor.

It’s easier this way, said Highways and Public Works assistant deputy minister Cynthia Tucker.

“That way we’re dealing with only one entity for performance or design issues that could come up,” said Tucker.

It also means land that might not be on the market could become available as part of the contractor’s package, she said.

“So we might get better results.”

But Kate White isn’t so sure.

“If I need a new car, I don’t say, ‘I have $15,000. Who has a car that fits my criteria?’” said the NDP’s Women’s Directorate critic.

So why do it with a building? she said.

“If I am going to build a house, I find land, design it and then get bids,” she said. “I don’t just say, ‘I have this much money, build me a house.’”

This is not a regular building either, added White.

“It’s housing for women fleeing violence, so how do we ensure contractors meet all the security requirements?”

With no land, no design and not even a request for proposals out yet, White is worried the new housing won’t be built any time soon.

“If it was finished and people were moving in by 2013, I’d be super-stoked,” she said. “But I have no faith in the process right now.”

White also questions the timing.

It’s a “feel good” announcement, sandwiched between more controversial issues such as oil and gas development and protecting the Peel River watershed, she said.

“Is it supposed to make us forget all this other stuff that’s going on?”

It’s no different than the F.H. Collins announcement, she said.

“They promised to build a new school and all these kids in Grade 10 and 11 thought they’d be graduating in a new school and now they’re not.”

Kaushee’s Place took in 273 women and children fleeing violence last year. It fielded more than 3,000 calls to its help line.

“I’ve been in this field a long time and what we’re seeing now is an aging population that’s also facing violence,” said McInerney.

Sometimes they need a longer time in transitional housing to deal with court battles “and put those dangerous times behind them,” she said.

One of Kaushee’s five units became available just the other day.

McInerney had six women who needed the room.

“They were all at risk, and it’s hard to decide who’s most at risk,” she said.

The new transitional housing is to be named Betty’s Haven, after longtime Kaushee’s employee and Gwich’in elder Betty Sjodin.

When she was a child, Sjodin travelled from around the northern communities by dogsled with her father, John Martin, an Anglican minister.

At Kaushee’s, Sjodin was “incredibly fun,” and “the most organized cleaner” McInerney has ever seen.

But most importantly, “she created an environment of respect amongst the women,” said McInerney.

“It didn’t matter if they were unmarried and pregnant, or had returned to their abusive husband 30 times, she treated everyone with respect.”

When Sjodin retired last year, “she left a huge hole in our organization,” said McInerney.

So they brought her back part-time to support staff and management.

The new transitional housing is being built as a partnership. Highways and Public Works is offering up technical advice, the Women’s Directorate is funneling the cash flow and Kaushee’s is in on the decision-making.

With so many cooks in the kitchen, Kaushee’s needs to pay for its own legal and architectural advice because, once it’s built, the new housing will be owned and operated by its transition home society.

If the project goes overbudget or if there are any building or mould issues, it remains unclear who will have to cough up the extra cash.

“We are committed to work within the budget,” said Taylor.

And if it goes overbudget?

“We are committed to work within the budget,” she said.

Contact Genesee Keevil at