“Ending homelessness is possible.” Those were the words the 100 attendees at the Yukon government’s Housing Summit 2022 repeated together at the direction of Safe At Home Society executive director Kate Mechan as the summit opened on Oct. 4.
Mechan was one of several speakers to deliver opening comments at the event held at the Yukon Inn in downtown Whitehorse. Also addressing the crowd was Ranj Pillai, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation; Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee; Ta’an Kwäch’än Council Chief Amanda Leas; Ed van Randen, the deputy minister of Health and Social Services; and Yukon Housing Corporation president, Mary Cameron.
The summit was focused on housing for the territory’s most vulnerable population and moving forward with actions in response to a scathing auditor general’s report on housing in the Yukon released earlier this year. The report identified a lack of action by the Yukon government on long-standing housing issues throughout the territory.
During the opening comments, offiicials stressed a commitment to understand and work on the issues.
“We’re here to listen and learn,” Pillai told the crowd.
While some presentations would include those with lived experience, Pillai pointed out most in the room would go home at the end of the day. He acknowledged it can be difficult to understand the urgency of the issue when a person has a safe place to go home to, but stressed that the situation is urgent for many.
“We don’t have time to sit,” he said. “We have to collectively work together.”
While officials emphasized the urgent need to address the housing issue, they also highlighted a number of recent initiatives that have or will soon result in housing.
Among some of those projects highlighted were Safe At Home’s work to convert the former High Country Inn to supportive housing; the Challenge Cornerstone project that brought 53 new units to Main Street; the transfer of the emergency shelter in Whitehorse from the Yukon government to Connective; plans for an Indigenous-led women’s shelter and more.
Leas also highlighted a number of projects the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and its development corporation have underway to address housing, including the addition of mobile homes in the Lake Laberge area, two housing developments planned for Whitehorse and a number of affordable housing projects the First Nation’s development corporation has built.
She noted the work that went into the Safe At Home plan five years ago, stressing a need to revitalize the plan.
“It is essential that the community continues to work together and to learn and share with each other,” she said. “I hope that’s what we’ll be doing over the next few days. So at Ta’an Kwäch’än Council we remain committed to working in partnership with all levels of government, and community organizations to ensure that efforts are coordinate, and therefore more effective when tackling this complex issue.”
Mechan noted the complexities of the housing issue seem to get bigger as time goes on. The sheer volume of people in need of housing is nothing short of overwhelming, she said, adding there’s a total of 67 children Safe At Home knows of who are in need of housing.
“I feel like we’re in a pressure cooker. And something’s got to give,” she said.
Mechan argued ending homelessness won’t come by working harder or coming up with the perfect plan. Rather, she said, imperfect action trumps perfect planning.
“We need partnerships that are going to amplify our reach and our chances of success,” Mechan said. “Partnerships built on the foundation of mutual respect, transparency, and a commitment to move inside and champion others work when there’s plenty of room for new and different leadership. Compassion and good intentions alone won’t end homelessness. It requires professionalism, and skill and commitment and perseverance. At the end of the day, the ability to truly, truly listen.”
Over the course of the summit, panel discussions and breakout sessions focused on the auditor general’s report were held.
In a statement released on Oct. 6, the Yukon government said the summit provided opportunities to look at new ways of evaluating and measuring the success of government housing programs; more efficient use of resources to support those with housing needs; and the possibility of a new approach between the Yukon Housing Corporation and First Nations governments to stack funding options in order to add housing with services in communities.
The input that came from the forum will inform a draft action plan of the Yukon Housing Corporation and the department of Health and Social Services aimed at addressing the auditor general’s report. The action plan is anticipated to be finalized in November.
“I am coming out of (the Oct. 4) housing summit energized and hopeful that some of the conversations that took place will materialize into tangible actions to better support homeless and precariously housed Yukoners,” Pillai said. “I was reminded that ending homelessness is possible if we all put our efforts together.”
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