Dozens of Yukoners without homes after 2 week notice of Whitehorse inn closure
Chilkoot Trail Inn will close indefinitely for essential fire hazard repairs
On Monday night, dozens of Yukoners were given two weeks until they had to leave their home indefinitely.
Whitehorse's Chilkoot Inn has housed many people over the years, many of them looking for a more affordable alternative to the city's increasingly inaccessible rental prices.
But now up to 50 people are left sorting out where they will sleep for the rest of the winter after the building's owners handed out notices for residents to end their stay.
"I know [the owners] are devastated," said Marc Perreault, who is acting as a spokesperson for the owners.
There were between 28 and 30 people staying at the inn, but Perreault estimates that a dozen or more people who were staying at the inn unregistered could be impacted.
"It's a family owned business but they also recognize the reality of an aging building," said Perreault.
Numerous fire, building, electrical code violations
The reality of the aging building is that over the last 12 years it has had four fires.
The most recent one in October sparked an investigation by the city's fire department.
By November, the department issued an order for the owners to remedy numerous fire, building, and electrical code violations. Perreault said the owners attempted to make these repairs by hiring a contractor, but had difficulties accessing units for a variety of reasons.
But the conditions continued to get worse in the building, and led the city's fire department to issue a closure notice last Tuesday for Feb. 11 until necessary changes were made.
"This action, while regrettable, was required to address significant deficiencies affecting fire and life safety within this facility," said fire chief Jason Everitt in an email.
"Our focus is and will always be the safety of our citizens, and actions such as this are a last resort only when other measures are not appropriate or have failed."
Perrault estimates these repairs will take two to three months. He added that the owners intend to let people have their rooms back, but with no rental agreements in place — nothing is guaranteed.
Housing crisis worsening
Kate Mechan is the executive director of Safe at Home Society, one of the groups working to find solutions for the dozens of people suddenly without homes.
"We were in a housing crisis before certainly 50 people flowing towards the emergency shelter system and other housing options will … sort of just increase the bottleneck in our in our systems," said Mechan.
As of December, there were 443 people on the housing waitlist in Whitehorse, according to the Yukon Housing Corporation, and number that is compounded by low vacancy rates and high rent prices.
"We anticipate that this will be added pressure on an already very taxed homelessness support network," said Mechan.
As of Monday there were 133 individuals and families who reported actively experiencing homelessness in the city, according to her organization, though the number is likely higher.
"We really are in a crisis of affordability and to be honest, hotels aren't even affordable options. And in fact, I would argue they're more expensive options than permanent housing solutions for people," said Mechan.
She said local organizations are keen to tackle affordability in the housing market, making rental housing more affordable and accessible.
Mental health a big concern
Mechan said this situation will likely force people into hidden homelessness or precarious and unsafe housing situations.
In addition to people's physical health and warmth, getting supports and care for their mental wellness is just as crucial at this time.
"The longer someone is in what we call the homeless services system or the homeless services sector, the more likelihood they are to experience trauma … just by virtue of being in a constant state of crisis," said Mechan.
The housing corporation says it is working with partners such as Safe at Home, to increase the availability and range of affordable housing options.
The Department of Health and Social Services says the territorial government is also getting resources and support to those impacted and is collaborating with community partners.
People in need of an immediate place to stay as a result of these evictions can contact Safety and Emergency Services. For long-term support, the health department said people can contact their social assistance provider, such as Yukon government Income Support Services.
The department did not answer questions about how many shelter beds are currently available in the city, or how many overnight stays they have seen over the last few months.
Rapid Access Counselling is available for people with mental wellness and substance use issues by calling 867-456-3838.