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Yukon NDP MLA’s claim about dozens of homeless campers in Whitehorse debunked

Kate Mechan of Safe at Home says “swirl” around numbers of people camping isn’t helpful
Yukon NDP MLA for Whitehorse Centre Lane Tredger speaks to reporters in the lobby of the Yukon legislature on April 15 about their claim that dozens of people are tenting in Whitehorse due to homelessness. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

As far as the premier and at least one social-service provider are aware, dozens of people aren’t tenting around Whitehorse right now due to homelessness.

That’s despite Yukon NDP MLA for Whitehorse Centre Lane Tredger’s claim in the Yukon Legislative Assembly on April 15. They said “there are dozens of people living in tents in Whitehorse” following hotel evictions and being forced out of Safe at Home’s temporary housing project at the former Coast High Country Inn due to necessary renovations.

In the house on April 16, Premier Ranj Pillai called Tredger’s claim a “massive embellishment” intended to shame his team working on the file.

“I reached out to a number of NGOs afterward, and they said that it wasn’t factual,” he said.

“I was very shocked yesterday, and I knew that the information wasn’t fair. I don’t think it’s appropriate to brush by it.”

On April 15, Tredger had initially asked for an update in the legislative assembly on the situation facing the more than two dozen people who used to live in the former hotel.

Pillai didn’t have exact numbers but provided some new information on the solutions that were found for “many.”

“We are hearing right now that some individuals have gone back to their home communities because they do have supports in rural Yukon, in some cases with the First Nations. We know that some non-profit organizations are finding other opportunities,” he said. “I know that some of those individuals as well have been absorbed into the housing stock at Yukon Housing (Corporation).”

Tredger indicated that’s not sufficient, given people are still sleeping in tents. They wondered what’s being done to find housing for people evicted from hotels.

Pillai called it a short-term challenge that involves working with groups like Safe at Home and the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.

“Over the spring, we did as many renovations as we possibly could to existing stock so that we could open it up and be able to move these folks into those rooms — more renovations than we have done in many years,” he said.

In the next couple of years, he indicated the Yukon government needs to build the most affordable housing units that “we have ever seen in Yukon history.”

“That’s what this budget does; that’s what the plans do; that’s what the partnerships do. We have been doing ground-breaking work for the last number of years, but we have to make sure that we have long-term plans in place and long-term infrastructure that is supported by wraparound services,” he said.

Tredger demanded to know what Pillai is immediately doing to find housing for those living in tents.

“Working with non-profits doesn’t work when there is nowhere for non-profits to house people,” Tredger said.

That’s when Pillai committed on the floor of the legislature to locate the homeless campers and match them with proper housing.

“I will go there with you. I will meet with those individuals, and we will find appropriate housing for those dozens of people. I’m ready to go tonight, so let me know after the day where they are at and we’ll go this evening and meet with them,” he said.

Tredger turned down the premier’s offer.

“I think he said that because he didn’t believe that those people are actually there, and I just can’t believe how out of touch he is to think that,” Tredger told reporters following the question period.

“I wouldn’t take him into people’s living rooms without asking. I’m not going to take him into people’s tents without asking.”

Tredger backed down a bit on the claim, clarifying to reporters that there are currently “at least a dozen” people tenting, before doubling down the following day.

The premier went to find, meet with and try to house campers on April 16.

Pillai reported back to reporters on April 17 that he met with the two campers he found — a couple and their dog. They used to live at the former inn with their pet.

He said the animal companion was proving to be a barrier for them to access the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, where pets aren’t allowed, and some other housing options.

Pillai noted he recently went out with the Council of Yukon First Nations’ Moccasin Mobile Outreach prior to the debate about homelessness in the legislature.

During an interview by phone on April 18, Safe at Home executive director Kate Mechan said it’s important for the community to recall that people camp every spring due to hotel evictions and a lack of appropriate housing options.

Mechan knows of less than 10 people living in tents in the Yukon’s capital.

“We should have predicted this,” she said.

“The swirl around dozens and dozens of people camping really isn’t helpful. It would be more helpful to focus on what housing gaps we do have and putting our collective resources and time into addressing those gaps and shortages.”

Mechan said deeply affordable housing and faster access to Yukon Housing Corporation options are needed.

Mechan noted residents had signed agreements and people were informed that the temporary housing project, which was extended multiple times, would eventually end.

The $30 million in renovations are expected to be completed, and people will start occupying units again at the former hotel on 4th Avenue, in 2026.

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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