Photo by Whitehorse Star
Pamela Hine and Pauline Frost
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Pamela Hine and Pauline Frost
A Housing First building is being planned for downtown Whitehorse.
It will be a first for the Yukon, according to Pauline Frost, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corp. (YHC).
The multi-unit building designed to shelter the “hard to house,” as Frost called its future tenants, will be located at Fifth Avenue and Wood Street. The site formerly housed the St. Elias students’ residence, which has been demolished.
“This project will offer much-needed access to housing for individuals who are currently homeless or in very vulnerable situations,” reads a quote from the minister in a press release issued Wednesday.
“The Yukon Housing Corporation and the Department of Health and Social Services will work collaboratively on this project, which will provide these Yukoners with a permanent home as they get the additional support they need.”
Frost told the Star yesterday that projected occupancy and a timeline for the project’s completion are not available yet.
However, the request for proposal (RFP) issued for the project’s design includes that information.
According to the RFP, the Housing First residence will be designed as a three-storey building with 15 housing units.
The construction budget is approximately $2.7 million and the project’s proposed completion date is June 30, 2019.
According to YHC president Pamela Hine, the housing corporation will own the building while the Department of Health and Social Services will be responsible for programming and services.
Funding has been sourced, she confirmed, and at least some of it will come from the federal government.
However, the Yukon government will wait until the project’s design is finalized to discuss those details.
Meg Grudeski, the housing co-ordinator with the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, (YAPC), told the Star this morning that her organization supports the principle behind the housing project.
“I think that from the coalition’s point of view, we’re excited that housing first is part of the dialogue, because it’s definitely one of the ideologies or philosophies or best practices that we’re hoping that the territory will start to see.”
However, more information about the project is needed before it can be celebrated as truly Housing First, she said.
A confirmed and commonly-accepted set of principles comprise the Housing First model.
Listed on the Homeless Hub website – a resource Grudeski pointed to – these are immediate access to permanent housing with no housing readiness requirements, consumer choice and self-determination, recovery orientation, individualized and client-driven supports and social and community integration.
In practicable terms, these mean:
• Prospective tenants are not required to be sober nor participate in addictions or mental health treatment or programming to be housed.
• Tenants are able to exercise some choice in where they live and what services they access.
• A spectrum of supports are available to facilitate individual recovery, including harm reduction. This could mean abstinence or it could mean managed substance use.
• Available support considers individual differences, such as cultural, financial, or level of need. A rent supplement is one example.
• Housing should not isolate nor stigmatize residents from the rest of their community, and opportunities to engage socially should be made available.
“It’s based very much in providing housing first within a system of care, based with harm reduction,” Grudeski said.
“So I guess that’s just what we would want to see, is that it is Housing First, as Housing First is meant to be done.”
Kate White, the NDP’s housing critic, said she was “pleasantly surprised” to hear this project announced, “considering that until the housing debate, the minister really didn’t understand what Housing First meant.”
Frost’s definition of the model was scrutinized in the legislature and the media earlier this fall.
That happened after she referred to the new Whitehorse Salvation Army Centre of Hope as being Housing First – despite the fact that the Army confirmed the transitional apartments in the building are not intended to be alcohol or drug-friendly spaces.
The Yukon government is funding the Centre of Hope’s operations and maintenance expenditures to the tune of $1.2 million every year for the next three years.
In this morning’s interview, Frost cited the five aforementioned principles of Housing First, and said the government’s objective with this project is to deliver programming and services based on those principles.
When asked, she stated that “she doesn’t see an issue” with substance use in the proposed building, as long as safety protocols are respected.
“Residents do not have to meet any conditions regarding sobriety, and Housing First really is about employing principles of harm reduction,” the minister said.
While the plan is to have support staff on site, she explained, the units will function similar to a private rental. These will be people’s homes, “and treated as such.”
White said she’s looking forward to finding out who these support staff will be – government or NGO – and whether utilizing their support will be a tenancy requirement.
While it’s a good thing to make supports available, White said, the Housing First model dictates they can’t be “forced.”
While Frost and Hine confirmed that the YHC and Health and Social Services will be working with other partners on this project, no names were provided.
See coverage of federal housing initiative.
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