More than 150 people were experiencing homelessness in Whitehorse during one night in April, according to recently-released findings from a point-in-time count.
The count, organized by local advocacy groups and done the night of April 13, was meant to offer a snapshot of what homelessness and housing insecurity looks like in the city.
"Homelessness is a persistent injustice, and addressing the root causes of homelessness is very important," Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition co-chair Helen Slama said at a press conference on Aug. 24.
"... The authors of the 2021 point-in-time count report urge each of us to reflect on the following questions and commit to one action — what is the opportunity we have? What are you going to do about what we have learned? And how do we reconcile the numbers now that we've seen them?"
The count's key findings include the fact that volunteers found 151 people who were experiencing homelessness that night. Of those people, 43 were "absolutely homeless," meaning they were staying at an emergency shelter or had no shelter at all; the remainder had a place to stay, such as a hotel room or a friend's home, but did not have stable, secure housing.
As well, 52 per cent of people surveyed reported having been homeless for the past 12 months while 64 per cent had been homeless for at least a year over the past three years. While nearly everyone surveyed said they would like to have permanent housing, they reported a number of barriers to getting it, including being unable to afford rent, and being discriminated against by landlords.
Eighty-five per cent of respondents were Indigenous.
More than just building affordable housing
Safe at Home Society executive director Kate Mechan said the overrepresentation of Indigenous people indicated that there was "a lot of work to do… in terms of putting Indigenous leadership at the forefront," and ensuring Indigenous governments are involved in housing initiatives.
Mechan also told media afterwards that addressing the issue of homelessness in Whitehorse requires more than just building affordable housing.
"It starts with housing stock, but we do need to be wrapping around people," she said.
"We need to acknowledge the fact that while some people may do just well with a little bit of front-end support once they move in and some support just stabilizing, many people will need support over the entire course of their lives, and that's okay."
"Wrapping around" people would include providing mental health and substance use supports, Mechan said, as well as supports for living with things like physical and mental disabilities or other serious medical issues. That, she said, goes hand-in-hand with ensuring agencies and organizations in the community who have the skills and experience in providing those supports are properly funded and resourced.
Actually listening to people and their needs, Mechan added, was key.
"I just think we have a lot to do to honour the people who are actually experiencing long-term homelessness," she said. "[That means] spending time honouring people's stories and listening because in their stories are the solutions."