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We need a national housing strategy

Secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing - who doesn't want that? And why does it seem so difficult to achieve - either for individuals or for us as a society? And what can we possibly do about it?

by Kristina Craig

Secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing - who doesn’t want that? And why does it seem so difficult to achieve - either for individuals or for us as a society? And what can we possibly do about it?

Members of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition recently met with our Member of Parliament, Ryan Leef, to discuss housing and homelessness. We were anxious to hear his position on an upcoming private member’s bill, Bill C-400, which would establish a national housing strategy.

Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy. If enough Conservative backbench MPs are in support, the bill will get referred to committee after second reading. We are pleased that Mr. Leef didn’t rule out supporting the bill.

There is no question that Canada needs a housing strategy. It is estimated that 400,000 Canadians are currently without a healthy place to live, often relying on emergency shelters or living on the streets. The health consequences behind these numbers are massive - both in human and financial cost.

In Whitehorse, we don’t have exact numbers, but we do know that the most vulnerable have few options. The Whitehorse Housing Adequacy study, released in 2010, suggested there were at least 100 chronically homeless people in Whitehorse. Assuming that Whitehorse is following the same trend as other jurisdictions in Canada, this estimate is conservative.

Grey Mountain Housing currently has 30 families and seven singles on their waiting list - 70 per cent are experiencing homelessness. Whitehorse Housing has 91 low-income individuals or families on the wait list. Fifty two are waiting for seniors’ housing and 39 are waiting for social housing; 20 per cent are reporting homelessness, with more expected in the summer months.

There is limited transitional housing for those exiting Whitehorse Correctional Centre and treatment programs. The Adult Resource Centre provides transitional shelter to men exiting WCC. There is no transitional shelter or program for women exiting WCC. Housing support and shelter options are limited for women who are not experiencing violence or who live with ongoing mental health issues or addictions.

The average cost of a house in Whitehorse is now in the $400,000 range and the rental vacancy rate is 1.3 per cent.

It is important to remember that Whitehorse is not alone. Most communities in every province and territory are facing similar challenges.

That’s why, when all members of Parliament passed a motion last May stating that the Canadian government “should keep with Canada’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to adequate housing as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” housing advocates were excited.

What a great first step. Next week, parliamentarians can take another step.

On Wednesday, Feb. 27th, Members of Parliament, including Ryan Leef, have an opportunity to vote for Bill C-400 at second reading. Bill C-400 would ensure:

* engagement with all levels of government, civil society and the private sector;

* clear targets and timelines to eliminate homelessness;

* independent monitoring of progress;

* mechanisms for affected individuals and groups to identify violations of the right to housing, have their concerns heard and get needed responses and actions;

* a focus on the circumstances of marginalized groups vulnerable to homelessness, including persons with mental or physical disabilities, low-income families with children, the elderly and those escaping violence; and

* financial supports for those who can’t otherwise afford housing.

The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition has encouraged Mr. Leef to vote for this bill to get it to committee. We are also encouraging members of Whitehorse City Council and the Yukon government to support Mr. Leef in voting for this bill.

We hope that during Rendezvous you take the time to talk to our elected officials at all levels of government about the importance of passing this bill, and the importance of supporting our MP in voting for it. You can also show your support by calling MP Ryan Leef’s office at 668-6565, Premier Darrell Pasloski’s office at 393-7053 or Mayor Dan Curtis at 668-8626.

It is time to work together and to demonstrate our commitment to secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for all Canadians.

Kristina Craig is co-ordinator of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.

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