Housing minister Pauline Frost announced a new multi-unit housing first initiative which will be located in downtown Whitehorse. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon government announces housing first project for Whitehorse

‘It’s too early to quote an amount of money,’ housing minister says of $2.7M project

Housing minister Pauline Frost announced a new housing first initiative in downtown Whitehorse with fanfare but few details Nov. 22.

The project will see the design of a multi-unit building at Fifth Avenue and Wood Street meant to house homeless individuals in Whitehorse. The Department of Health and Social Sevices and the Yukon Housing Corporation will team up to build the complex, which is intended to provide “affordable permanent housing to those who require ongoing support and care in addition to a place to live,” the government said via press release.

In an interview, Frost, who’s also the health and social services minister, said people who move into these units will not need to stay off alcohol or drugs while they are living there. The project is designed to give “immediate access” to housing, she said.

This makes the project the first true “housing first” initiative in the Yukon.

“We wanted to push this out right away and recognize that this has a certain philosophy behind it,” Frost said.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada defines housing first as “an approach that provides immediate access to permanent housing, in addition to flexible, community-based services for people who have experienced homelessness … without requiring psychiatric treatment or sobriety.”

In the press release, the government recognized housing first as “both a philosophy for housing provision and a clearly defined program model” and said it “will continue to use the core principles of housing first to guide its approach.”

Kristina Craig, co-ordinator for the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition (YAPC) said that the project will fill a gap in housing in the Yukon, although without more details it was hard for her organization to comment further.

“This will definitely be a benefit, we need a housing first program,” she said. “It’s definitely a good thing.”

“There is a huge need … for these services in the community.”

When asked for details about the program, including how much it would cost, Frost was unable to provide any information because the plan was still “in its early stages.”

“It’s too early to quote an amount of money,” she said. “At this point, we just don’t know.”

But request for proposals for a building issued jointly by the Yukon Housing Corporation and the health and social services department Nov. 20 included some of those details.

The RFP lists the proposed construction budget at around $2.7 million, not including design fees.

The proposed facility will have 15 bachelor-style units approximately of 400 square feet, with two of those units being slightly largely in order to accommodate two people. Each apartment will include a kitchenette with apartment-sized appliances. Windows will open “only partially” for security reasons, drywall will be impact-resistant and rooms will have bedbug resistant flooring and sealants between units.

On the main floor there will be two accessible units, a common living area, communal kitchen, staff office, mechanical and electrical room with separate entrances. If there is space available in the final design, this area will also contain a “healing” or “quiet” room for disturbed occupants. The building with be accessible by key fob 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with on-site staff supervision.

Proposed dates in the RFP include a contract award for the design process by Dec. 13, 2017, a conceptual approval by Jan. 26, 2018 and construction tender to be awarded May 25, 2018.

Residents in the units will pay rent which will be based on their income, said Pamela Hine, president of the housing corporation.

Frost said this is a standard practice and that the government has no intention of providing housing “free of charge.”

“There are housing first programs across the country with people living in them for the rest of their lives,” said Craig. “So paying rent in those scenarios just makes sense.”

The project is expected to be completed by June 30, 2019.

With files from Ashley Joannou

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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