Whitehorse couple has nowhere to go as tourism season begins and hotel rates rise

·4 min read
Brian and Kathy Poho have been living at the Riverview Hotel in downtown Whitehorse for the past year and a half. They said they're being forced to leave their room by the end of the month. (Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC - image credit)
Brian and Kathy Poho have been living at the Riverview Hotel in downtown Whitehorse for the past year and a half. They said they're being forced to leave their room by the end of the month. (Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC - image credit)

Kathy and Brian Poho, who have been living at the River View Hotel in downtown Whitehorse for the past year and a half, say they are being forced to leave their room by the end of the month.

The hotel had previouly said they had to leave the room by the end of next week, but is now allowing the couple to stay a few weeks longer as they continue to search for suitable housing.

The Pohos — both retirees who've called Yukon their home for the past 37 years — say the hotel is making room for tourists, leaving them with no place to go.

A spokesperson for the hotel told CBC News it isn't forcing people to leave their rooms. Rather, the spokesperson said it notified guests that nightly rates were increasing on May 1. That meant many guests couldn't afford to stay. The hotel said winter rates range around $60 to $90 per night, whereas summer rates hover around $130 to $160 per night.

The hotel spokesperson also said it tries to accommodate guests in need as long as it's financially viable. He said the hotel charges higher rates during the summer so it can cover fixed costs, like heating, during the winter months.

Kathy is still recovering from bypass surgery after being medevaced to Vancouver two weeks ago. She said she currently has several surgical wound infections.

The hotel manager has already extended the couple's stay several times, she said, as she continues to search for housing and recover from surgery, but the hotel is asking them to leave by the end of the month.

"There's not many apartments available right now at all," said Kathy. "They're so expensive and the ones we could afford don't allow pets and we have a cat."

Poho says she doesn't blame the hotel for her situation, and is understanding of hotels raising prices during tourist season.

"The hotel manager and owner have been excellent to us," said Poho. "Totally respectful and friendly, they've made my life a lot easier."

But Kathy and Brian are worried they'll have to live in their truck if they don't find anything else.

"I'm diabetic," said Kathy. "I can't even imagine living in my car. Where would I keep my insulin? It's got to be cold."

Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC
Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC

Yukon NDP Leader Kate White found out about the couple's situation and is working to help them find affordable housing. White said the government needs to do more to help people in precarious situations.

"Where is the support to make sure that when this person is finished that surgery, they're coming back to safe and adequate housing?" asked White.

The Yukon government did not provide anyone for an interview, but said in an email statement that it's working with community partners to help people impacted by hotel evictions.

'No real social housing' available

Kate Mechan, executive director of the Safe at Home Society, said people are evicted from hotel rooms every summer during tourist season, but this year is worse because of how many people relied on hotels during the pandemic.

"We've seen a huge influx of individuals come to our doors in May," said Mechan, who estimates 50 to 60 people living in hotels were forced to leave.

She said "there are limited to no options" for people being forced out of hotel rooms at this time.

"We really have this tiny, tiny trickle of units coming from the private rental market … and no real social housing," said Mechan. "People are left with emergency shelter options."

Mechan said that hotels and motels are not permanent housing solutions.

She said many of the people evicted from hotels have been asking the Safe at Home Society for camping supplies.

Last week, the Yukon Status of Women Council urged the City of Whitehorse to allow people to camp in certain green spaces around the city this summer, citing "unprecedented" levels of homelessness.

The women's council said in a letter to city council last week that it was concerned many people don't have safe places to live this summer.

Kathy said trying to find a new home has been a "humbling experience" and she feels terrible for those who are camping right now.

"I understand there isn't a lot of help, but that's gotta change," said Kathy. "That should be the most basic right, to have a home."

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