Yukon advocacy group issues 10 calls to action to address homelessness

On Tuesday, Yukon's Safe at Home Society issued 10 calls to action at a community barbeque it hosted at Rotary Peace Park in response to the ongoing homelessness crisis in the city. 

Among the calls is to end Yukon's no-cause evictions policy

Safe at Home Society executive director Kate Mechan speaks at an event in Whitehorse on Tuesday to announce the group's 10 calls to action to address the growing number of people facing homelessness in the city. (Leslie Amminson/CBC)

As with many parts of the country, Whitehorse is dealing with a housing crisis, and Yukon's Safe at Home Society says things are getting worse.

On Tuesday, the advocacy group issued 10 calls to action at a community barbecue it hosted at Rotary Peace Park in response to the ongoing homelessness crisis in the city.

Those calls include recommendations like expanding rent supplements to include those receiving income support, banning no-cause evictions, creating a landlord registry, revisiting the need for regulating short-term rentals in the city, and increasing supports for those dealing with bed bugs.

The organization says over 200 people are seeking housing in Whitehorse, which is up from last year. The figure includes more than 60 children.

On Tuesday, Yukon's Safe at Home Society issued 10 calls to action at a community barbeque it hosted at Rotary Peace Park in response to the ongoing homelessness crisis in the city. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Kate Mechan, the executive director for Safe at Home, said the Yukon doesn't have a lot of strong policies in place to ensure that people are housed and stay housed. For example, Yukon is one of few places in Canada where landlords can evict without cause.

"We're seeing a steady increase in the number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness," she said, including long-term homelessness.

That homelessness, Mechan said, can last a really long time. 

"We know people who've been homeless for 10 years," she said.

No-cause evictions must end, group says

When it comes to evictions, Mechan said people can have anywhere from 14 days to three months to find a new home, which she said is often not enough time to find accommodation in Yukon's tight housing market.

Mechan said as long as Yukon has its no-cause eviction policy in place under the residential landlord tenant act, people will have no security of tenure. 

"Other policy mechanisms, like a rent cap, for example, can't really perform the function it is meant to because a landlord … can just evict someone and then raise the rent and bring in new new tenants," she said.

"That's one example of how no-cause of evictions are just really precarious."

Samantha Smith, a housing stability worker with Safe at Home, said she's seeing more people struggling to pay rent, even while working.

"We're just seeing more and more folks come to our door. And that's a similar story we're hearing from other organizations," Smith said.

Smith said for three months, from April to June, according to the organization's most recent report, they got over 500 calls from people looking for help with housing.

Homelessness is a community issue

Sofia Ashley, the executive director of the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, came to the event to show her support.

She said in recent years, the women's centre has been increasingly helping people on income support to pay for rent, utilities, damage deposits and more.

Ashley thinks one of the most important calls to action is the one calling to end debt or arrears for people who are living in Yukon housing

"I really think that needs to end in some form or fashion," she adding some people end up being evicted for being indebted even in amounts under $100.

"When you have a traumatized population, and in particular a population that's been traumatized around housing, anytime there's that little pink notice on their door, you're triggering a mental health crisis, you're triggering chronic health syndromes, you're triggering an addiction."

She said homelessness is a community issue, not just one for the agencies trying to help or those experiencing it. 

"This community has [hundreds of] people who are facing homelessness, and as a community, we all need to work together to end that for them," Ashley said. 

"It's totally possible. There's models for it. We just have to do the work."

With files from Leslie Amminson