The grassy section next to the Yukon legislature is looking more and more like a refugee camp – or at least a campsite.
Last Wednesday, Helen Hollywood pitched a tent beside the government building to protest the Yukon Party’s inattention to Whitehorse’s housing crisis.
Over the weekend, about 10 more tents popped up in a show of solidarity.
Eight volunteers from the Katimavik program moved in, as did representatives from the Victoria Faulkner women’s shelter and Yukon Anti-poverty Coalition.
And a couple of people who are currently living at the Robert Service Campground are planning to move in soon.
“I’ll stay here as long as I have to,” said Hollywood on Monday morning.
She wants to see more quality affordable housing in the territory, as well as amendments to the Yukon’s antiquated Landlord and Tenant Act.
“I have high expectations,” said Hollywood.
“I don’t like paying a thousand bucks a month for a place with frozen water pipes and no heating.”
Hollywood has had to deal with Whitehorse’s housing crisis for the past three years now.
She’s been kicked out of apartments for complaining about their state of disrepair.
She’s been kicked out of the Robert Service campground for plugging a coffee maker and microwave into the bathroom wall sockets.
And she’s been kicked out of hotels in the summer to make room for tourists and on Christmas and New Year’s Eve to give staff a holiday.
When this happens, she often finds a friend to couchsurf with until she can find another place, although she spent last New Year’s in the drunk tank.
And it’s not just the territory’s down-and-out who are affected.
Government workers have dropped by to visit Hollywood, telling her that they’ve also had trouble finding adequate housing, she said.
“Something has to be done. Housing is a human right.”
Many of Katimavik’s volunteers were very surprised to see how bad the housing problem is in Whitehorse, said Tanis McDivitt-VanderMolen, the group’s local project leader.
“Part of Katimavik is doing a community project, so they had spent a lot of time over the last few months addressing different needs in Whitehorse,” she said.
“A lot of the partners that we work with are organizations that are struggling to help people who are suffering from the housing crisis. Housing came up so often, and we couldn’t think of anything that the eight of them
could do to help.
“As soon as we heard about the protest, they wanted to be there right away.”
The volunteers joined the protest of their own accord, and were not representing the organization, which has no position on the matter.
The housing crisis has had a direct affect on Katimavik’s volunteers.
Several of them like the Yukon so much they want to stay an extra month.
But they’re finding it nearly impossible to find an affordable place to live.
It’s also becoming more difficult to find billets for the volunteers, said McDivitt-VanderMolen.
“It’s really hard to find a place to stay – even just for two weeks – because if there is an empty room in a Whitehorse home, it’s probably already taken.”
Taking part in the protest was a great experience for the volunteers, she added.
“It’s nice for them to see, before they leave, that some action is being taken – they feel at least that the ball is starting to roll and that more people are becoming aware of the problem.”
Hollywood received a visit from Health and Social Services Minister Glenn Hart on Thursday, she said.
But other than that, there hasn’t been any response from government.
Contact Chris Oke at firstname.lastname@example.org