Kerry Nolan, flanked by Charlotte Hrenchuk, Yukon Status of Women Council coordinator, left, and Kate Mechan, with the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, right, tells the story on Aug. 22, about how she faced years of homelessness in Whitehorse. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Survey tries to take ‘snapshot’ of Whitehorse homelessness

“I tell my story so that mine and others’ voices may be heard”

Kerry Nolan’s legs shook as she stood in front of a crowd of people at Shipyards Park on Aug. 22, telling them about the 10 years she was homeless in Whitehorse. Her voice shook too, but she kept talking.

“I tell my story so that mine and others’ voices may be heard,” she told an audience during an afternoon barbeque, where numbers were released from a recent homelessness count in Whitehorse.

“(Homelessness) can happen to anyone,” she said. “And it takes a community to end it.”

“Today, I’m a part of the working poor. Still, every day, with the threat overhanging me of being evicted.”

Nolan isn’t in the minority.

The night of April 17, 2018, more than 50 staff and volunteers conducted a Point in Time (PiT) Homelessness Count in Whitehorse. This included gathering data from various locations in the city including nine street routes, and a variety of shelters and service providers.

Locally, the initiative was conducted by the Yukon Planning Group on Homelessness and the Council of Yukon First Nations, but it’s also part of a broader cross-Canada count conducted by the Government of Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy. More than 60 Canadian communities participated in March and April 2018.

This is the second time it has been conducted in Whitehorse. Previously, a count was conducted in 2016. That year, 219 people were identified as homeless.

According to this year’s results, 195 people experienced homelessness.

Kate Mechan, with the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, said the actual number of homeless in the city is likely much higher.

She said it’s tough to compare numbers from this year to 2016, partly for the simple fact of the weather.

“The weather in 2016 was beautiful and sunny like it is today and warm and this year it was like minus 10. So that’s really going to have an impact on, for example, your unsheltered numbers and the way that people are moving around the city to stay warm at night,” she said.

On the night of the 2018 count, 28 respondents were unsheltered (living in a tent or less), 33 were staying in shelters such as the Salvation Army or Kaushee’s Place. There were 134 respondents who were provisionally accommodated, meaning they were staying temporarily at some form of transitional housing, including hotels, or with friends.

Mechan said it’s important to recognize that the count is just a snapshot of a single night.

“We know it’s sort of an at least number, it’s not a hundred per cent certain,” she said. “You’ve got to remember it’s only a snapshot. It’s only one night.”

She also said it doesn’t capture “hidden homelessness,” including those who may be couchsurfing.

“The way that hidden homelessness works is that people want to stay hidden, so people may not be coming forward.”

Charlotte Hrenchuk, coordinator with the Yukon Status of Women Council, said the 200 surveys conducted found that rental affordability was the main barrier for many looking to access housing.

The surveys also found that 12 per cent of those responding were youth, and that 61 per cent of respondents had experienced homelessness before the age of 24.

“And that’s really shocking when you think that we should be caring for our youth. That our children are our most important asset that we have in a society. Eighty-three per cent were adults and five per cent were seniors. And that’s shocking too, our seniors who were supposed to be getting support at the end of their lives are finding themselves homeless,” said Hrenchuk.

She said it was further shocking to find that 82 per cent of respondents were Indigenous, while 18 per cent were not.

“That’s a telling statement about our society, that First Nations people in their own homeland are finding themselves homeless,” she said.

While Hrenchuk spoke, a man in attendance at the barbeque yelled over her.

“What do you care about the homeless?” he yelled. “Prove it … I’m sleeping on the river.”

Mechan said information gathered by the count will help identify barriers to housing for people, work to develop a more coordinated access system, and target supports accordingly.

For example, 66 respondents said they needed help with mental health and substance abuse issues. They identified those as specific challenges to gaining and maintaining housing.

Mechan said the data from the count will also inform Safe at Home, the City of Whitehorse’s plan to end and prevent homelessness.

The report can be found online at cyfn.ca

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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