Options For Independence opens new residence
“Wow, what a day!”
Photo by Vince Fedoroff
THE BIG MOMENT – Cutting the ribbon opening the Dun Kenji Ku complex Tuesday afternoon were, left to right, Community Services Minister Brad Cathers, Premier Darrell Pasloski, Sharon Hickey, the president of the Options for Independence Society, and Yukon MP Ryan Leef. READY FOR OCCUPANCY – The Dun Kenji Ku complex, which includes spacious kitchen facilities, will enable the Options for Independence Society to provide housing and program services for up to 26 residents.
“Wow, what a day!”
Sharon Hickey, the president of the Options For Independence Society (OFI), summed up the excitement Tuesday as Dun Kenji Ku, or the People’s Place in Southern Tutchone, building on Fourth Avenue was officially opened.
Speaking in one of the 14 apartment units in the building across from the Coast High Country Inn, Hickey was joined by government officials, First Nation representatives and residents who will soon move in to celebrate its completion and officially dedicate the building.
It was five years ago, in 2009, that OFI (which provides housing and support for those living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) acquired a quote on how much the $3-million-plus building would cost.
That came more than a decade after Hickey moved to Whitehorse in 1998. At that time, she recalled, there were important discussions happening about creating a halfway house for Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates living with FASD upon their release from the jail.
Those discussions soon turned to a question of why wait until those living with FASD were in the criminal justice system to look at providing supportive housing?
Why not provide that support to those living with FASD who may need the help now?
Soon, OFI was born, and the group was providing supports and housing to those living with FASD.
Work has continued over the years, with OFI providing numerous supports to those who need it.
At Tuesday’s event, Hickey told a crowd which filled the apartment and spilled into the hallway the group has had “so much help” along the way.
She then launched into a long list of thank-yous on the project.
Those on her list included Cardinal Construction, which honoured its original 2009 quote; the city, for finding “creative ways” to support the project, such as granting legal easements and forgiving development fees and property tax; the territorial and federal governments for their financial support to build the residence; and Hazel Bunbury, who provided the Southern Tutchone name for the building.
Bunbury also delivered the opening and closing prayer at Tuesday’s event and was presented with a gift of thanks from OFI.
Hickey also provided her thanks to the OFI board – including past and present board members who have worked on the project – and noted she’s grateful to be part of an organization with members that bring “no drama and a get ’er done attitude.”
She also took the time to thank OFI tenants who were willing to “try on” the new housing.
Numerous politicians were also on-hand to address the large gathering.
As Yukon MP Ryan Leef said, it was great to have “literally, a crowded house here today.”
He congratulated all those involved with it, noting the role of partnerships in seeing it come to fruition.
“These partnerships are very strong,” he said.
Yukon Senator Dan Lang, meanwhile, reflected on the work that has been done in the territory on FASD, noting that it was not that long ago it was an issue that was “swept under the rug.”
He too noted it’s important to continue moving onward with partnerships so projects like the new residential building can happen.
Lang also cited housing projects occurring in the communities that have an important role in the territory.
Brad Cathers, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corp., and Health and Social Services Minister Doug Graham also delivered speeches reflecting on the work that was done by various levels of government and others to make the residence a reality.
Graham specifically thanked volunteers with OFI. It was those volunteers who made it happen, he said, noting the territory is considered a leader in FASD research as well as support through initiatives such as the housing project.
“Nowhere else in Canada do they do this,” he said, adding there is interest from elsewhere in the country on what is being done to support those living with FASD.
“We are proud to be a partner celebrating the opening of this residence,” Candice Bergen, the federal minister of State (Social Development), said in a statement.
“All the years of hard work are making a real difference in the lives of residents who call this home. Our government remains committed to working with our partners to develop and implement solutions to housing both in Whitehorse and across Canada.”
Mayor Dan Curtis was also on the list of speakers at the event, reflecting on what can be done when groups work together.
Following the official ribbon-cutting, visitors were able to wander through the building taking in the apartments, which feature an open space kitchen and living area for residents.