The hotels are emptying of homeless people who have filled their rooms all winter. Now that COVID-19 restrictions are easing, hoteliers are eagerly waiting and opening their doors to visitors from around the world.
People living in city hotels have been asked to move out by June 1, according to the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition. The eviction notices were issued in April. Other motels have quietly moved from monthly rates to daily rates, far exceeding residents’ ability to pay and easily exceeding housing allowance for welfare recipients.
On May 31, several non-governmental organizations, all interested in housing issues, met with the Government of Yukon’s Department of Health and Social Services, the Yukon Housing Corporation (YHC) and the City of Whitehorse to discuss of the Auditor General’s report on housing which was released a few days earlier. Later, the focus shifted from the report’s dire warning to the emerging crisis on the streets of Whitehorse.
Kristina Craig, executive director of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, told the New June 1 that “the number of people with nowhere to go is increasing dramatically, and today is a big, bad day for a lot of people.”
Alarm bells went up as people started looking for camping gear.
“The city is concerned about people camping in the clay cliffs because sometimes that’s where people come when they don’t have a suitable place,” Craig said.
Now that the escarpment area is blocked, displaced people and families are looking for other options.
Late on June 2, the Yukon Status of Women Council sent a letter, signed and supported by 12 other non-governmental organizations, asking the city council to take extraordinary measures to ensure that homeless people can find safe places to live. For women and children in particular, the Whitehorse shelter is not a safe place, advocates said.
The letter requests a special, temporary provision under the Parks and Public Open Spaces Regulations to allow camping at Robert Service Campground and Takhini Arena.
It also asks that “certain green spaces, church parking lots and other parcels of private land be authorized to allow coordinated, centralized or dispersed camping”.
concerns from above
Craig attended the May 31 meeting with government officials and said the seriousness of the situation was recognized.
The Auditor General was also clearly worried, long before hotels were booked by travelers and the clay cliffs slipped.
The Auditor General’s report concluded that the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Department of Health and Social Services had failed to provide vulnerable Yukoners who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless with access to housing that met to their needs.
Hotels and motels are not an answer, nor are temporary camps. Neena MacKinnon is the Coordinated Access Coordinator at the Safe at Home Society and says she doesn’t like to refer to hotel rooms as housing units.
“We know that’s not the case in most cases, it’s not even good enough. They have no way to cook or store food or something people have told us is they don’t even have a phone as it’s a monthly fee.
The Yukon Convention Bureau said hotel rooms in Whitehorse were impossible to find, many cost more than $300 a night, and the loss of 82 rooms at Coast High Country was felt by travelers. Craig said motels where many people wintered now cost between $129 and $159 a night.
Craig and MacKinnon both identified that the loss of the Chilkoot Trail Inn in January changed things significantly. Most of these residents had settled long-term, but when the building was deemed uninhabitable, many of these residents were moved to the Riverview Hotel, where they lived until June 1. Many of these same people are looking for places again.
Colin McDowell, vice-president of the Yukon Housing Corporation, mentions new affordable housing that will soon be in service. McDowell said he expects the 47-unit mixed-use housing project at Fourth Avenue and Robert Service Way to welcome new residents by August and September of this year. McDowell also cited new units under construction and work in the Whistle Bend Subdivision.
But at the moment MacKinnon says: ‘We recognize that there are no other options with 195 people currently homeless and no hotels to stay at.’
“We expect him to [camping] it will happen; we’re not arguing that there should be a camp or camping in town, but there really isn’t anywhere else except camping.
Who counts ?
The auditor’s report indicates that from August 2019 to August 2021, an average of 75 households per month lived in hotels.
A spokeswoman for Health and Human Services, Clare Robson, said that in April, 53 households used their welfare benefits to pay for hotel accommodations.
The company Safe at Home reported that 46 people on its list of names were living in hotels in mid-May. The nominative list only contains people who have asked to be put on a list to receive housing.
The Yukon Housing Corporation’s waiting list for social housing is cited at 463 for 2021 in the auditor’s report.
Jayme Curtis, acting manager of the Whitehorse shelter, said they only count beds occupied per night. They do not report the frequency or length of a single person’s stays.
Craig says more people are entering homelessness than leaving it.
Aja Mason of the Yukon Status of Women Council said June 1 that Indigenous women are overwhelmingly the most at risk of homelessness.
MacKinnon says a case management system to track homelessness has been available since 2019. It’s not being used by the territorial government due to privacy concerns, despite recommendations from federal agencies.
READ MORE: Auditor General’s scathing findings on Yukon housing highlight longstanding issues
Contact Lawrie Crawford at [email protected]