Gloria Henry is full of love and laughter. And she can't help it: she's loud.

Henry speaks in a high-pitched voice which is propelled by enthusiasm.   

"Look I got my nails done!" she exclaims as I visit Dun Kenji Ku. 'They're pink and blue!" 

In a private apartment building Henry's voice might cause noise complaints. But Colette Acheson, vice-president of Options for Independence, says it's a small example of a behaviour that is understood here.

Dun Kenji Ku is a residence for adults with FASD.  

"One of the things that's challenging for her is that she's got some hearing loss," says Acheson. 

Dun Kenji Ku

The $3 million dollar facility is a first in Yukon. It has been called "quite extraordinary" by a group which advocates for better understanding of FASD. (CBC)

"And as she loses her hearing, her voice seems to get louder and louder. And when you're living in a mainstream apartment that kind of thing isn't always understood by other tenants." 

Dun Kenji Ku, or People's Place, has been open since February. The $3 million facility in downtown Whitehorse is an innovative concept intended to help a vulnerable population.  

Seven men and six women live at the facility. They are provided individual apartments which include washrooms and kitchens including stoves. Staff are on hand 24 hours a day to provide counselling or help diffuse a crisis. 

The long-term goal is to reduce interactions with police and emergency services.

Simoukai Mutiwekuziwa, the facility's operations manager, cites proof the concept is working.  

Colette Acheson

Colette Acheson is volunteer VP of Options for Independence. She says the facility is designed to provide support "further up the line" before clients reach a crisis. (CBC)

"We have no illusions about this, we're still managing a transition," he says.

"But I am happy to report that things have gone way better than we anticipated. We have reduced the number of serious incidents. There hasn't been need for us to have emergency medical services come in here. There's reduced RCMP involvement." 

Mutiwekuziwa says a major responsibility is to guard against violence and self-harm. About half the residents cook for themselves in their rooms using the stoves. These residents are trusted with knives and sharp objects while others have restrictions.

Security cameras allow staff to keep an eye on common areas such as hallways and stairwells, though apartments are private. 

Yukon a 'pioneer' says Toronto group

Brian Philcox, chair of a group called FAS World, says he'd like to see a housing-first approach across Canada.  

"Yukon has been a pioneer providing leadership on issues relating to FASD," he says. "In terms of housing and this particular project, it's really quite extraordinary and should be replicated in every province and every major community right across the country." 

According to the John Howard Society of Canada, people with FASD are more likely to become homeless or be victims or perpetrators of crime. The condition is linked to poor control over impulses and a poor understanding of consequences.

Philcox is a member of an Ontario adult corrections advisory council. He says Canada has far too many people with FASD in the general prison population.

"So many of the people who are incarcerated are there not for heinous crimes, they're inside for really stupid reasons," he says.

"Oftentimes it's because of lack of diligence on their part, or forgetfulness, and they don't meet their parole officer. They forget to do things; they don't hold a job because they sleep in." 

Activities

The residence also schedules activities and field trips. Teddy Jackson is here shown at the Whitehorse Fish Ladder. (submitted)

While FASD is a misunderstood condition, Philcox says people with FASD can succeed in the right environment. 

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski has said he believes addictions are "a health issue, not a criminal justice issue" and has called for a similar understanding of FASD.

He says Dun Kenji Ku and other programs like the Jackson Lake Healing camp will eventually save the territory money and prevent suffering. Dun Kenji Ku is mostly supported by territorial funding but it has also benefited from the federal Affordable Housing Initiative.

Asked whether the approach is more left or right, politically conservative or liberal, Pasloski says "it is simply the right approach." 

Acheson agrees with that assessment. 

"When you are proactive about helping people in need, you're often catching them further up the line before they get into a crisis situation," she says.