Territorial government taken to task on housing

The Yukon government needs to show leadership on the housing front, says the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition. "The situation is disappointing," said Patricia Bacon, the executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions.

The Yukon government needs to show leadership on the housing front, says the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.

“The situation is disappointing,” said Patricia Bacon, the executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions, who also sits on the coalition’s housing task force.

“We’re looking now at going into another summer where housing supports and options for the most vulnerable and the most marginal people in our community are being ignored.”

In fact, the only thing the Yukon government has done “to address this community in a proactive way is to pass a law that forbade them from being able to pitch a tent somewhere,” she added.

More than a year ago, the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition released a plan to address the myriad of housing issues Whitehorse faced. The report made a series of recommendations, but 15 months later almost none of them have been implemented.

“We all know that it is a very, very complex issue and we know that there are many demands on the resources of governments with respect to the housing needs,” said Bill Thomas, the chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition. “But we also know that it really is a crisis,”

Even getting information from the government proved difficult.

While the Department of Community Services and the Woman’s Directorate provided information, other government departments – the departments of Justice, Health and Social Services and the Yukon Housing Corporation – ignored the coalition’s requests.

As a result, there are several blank spots in the progress report.

The coalition broke the progress report into three parts. The first installment, released this week, deals with emergency shelters and transitional housing.

It doesn’t look good.

“We haven’t seen a lot of progress,” said Marilyn Wolovick, who chairs the Whitehorse Planning Group on Homelessness.

With an acute lack of supportive and transitional housing options, the Salvation Army’s emergency shelter is left filling the gap, she said.

“It’s a Band-Aid solution,” said Wolovick. “Emergency shelters are designed as a placement of last resort for people that don’t have any options.”

What the city needs are transitional housing options, where people can get long-term support so they don’t end up at the shelter in the first place, she said.

Currently the Salvation Army has 30 to 40 regulars every night.

For woman with children and younger people the emergency shelter isn’t appropriate.

“There are issues with safety,” said Wolovick.

The options for those two groups are limited.

There is a youth emergency shelter at the Sarah Steele building, but it doesn’t have secure funding, or let anyone under 16 years old in.

The Yukon government has committed $4.5 million to help build more transitional housing units for Kaushee’s Place, which provides shelter to women fleeing violence.

However, that isn’t enough money to complete a 10-unit apartment building the non-profit has planned, and there is no time line for the construction.

The $4.5 million comes out of a pool of money for affordable housing that was given by the federal government to the territory in 2006.

There is still $13.5 million left in the bank. The fact that it hasn’t been spent is a source of ongoing frustration for the housing task force.

“We had a meeting with the minister of Yukon Housing last week and he brought up, of his own volition, that $13.5 million and indicated to us that they still are nowhere close to committing those monies to housing,” said Thomas. “I think that’s part of the disappointment.”

It wasn’t all bad news.

Blood Ties is working on building its own supportive housing unit. The Steve Cardiff House, a 204-square-foot bungalow, is set to open in July.

“This is one tiny house, but it’s one tiny step forward,” said Wolovick.

The City of Whitehorse has also really stepped up to the plate, said Thomas.

Following a recommendation from last year’s report, the city amended its zoning bylaws to make it easier to build rooming houses and hostels.

“The city has been a real shining light for the past 12 to 18 months,” said Thomas.

The Yukon government, however, gets poorer marks.

“We have failed to see an emergence of a leader on the housing crisis,” said Bacon. “We think that leader does need to be our territorial government and the elected officials.

“We’re not seeing that happen, and that’s sad.”

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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