Homelessness in Yukon: Under Whitehorse’s Snowy Clean Blanket
By Skyler Isaac
By day, the town of Whitehorse is coated in a layer of something resembling beauty. The snow falls, covering the environment in its lovingly crafted flakes. Gainfully employed citizens commute to and from their jobs, breathing in the crisp air and enjoying it while it lasts, before eventually being safely ensconced within a comfortably-heated building, one they know will always be there to shelter them from the environment, from harm.
But what lies between all that?
What do you see when you look past the rotating gears of a town in full motion? Past the breadwinners and labourers with money in the bank and roofs over their heads?
Who do you see?
Existing between the cracks of modern society are those without a home to call their own. The ones who spend their days begging for spare change and searching for a place to safely lay their head at night.
Maybe it’s because of a simple lack of income. Perhaps they are still impacted by residential schools or were victims of domestic abuse, or even sexual assault, inflicted upon them by parents and/or relatives. Either way, they have nowhere else to turn.
And the homelessness epidemic may be affecting youth most of all. According to Without A Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey—a publication put together by Stephen Gaetz, Bill O’Grady, Sean Kidd and Kaitlin Schwan—anywhere between thirty and forty thousand youth between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four experience episodes of homelessness throughout the year.
“We have more youth who are outside year-round,” says Jack Bogaard, who serves as the lived-experience advisor at the Safe At Home Working Group, “And so…The numbers are starting to become staggeringly high. And people do not want to listen. Or hear it. Or see it. Or feel it. Because they don’t want to deal with it; they want someone else to deal with it. Pass the buck, that’s what it is, just pass the buck to someone else. It goes around and around and nothing gets solved. I want to see the four governments that we work with come together, seriously sit down and have a good talk about what are we going to do, how can we make a change here in Whitehorse. We have to look at where are we gonna place these people.
“We’ve got people with addictions, we’ve got people with mental health problems, we’ve got people with all kinds of misfortunes in their lives, that don’t have opportunity because they have given up on themselves and they just need a hand to lead them.”
Here in town, several places such as the Salvation Army have spent decades doing what they can to combat homelessness.
But the techniques utilized by the Salvation Army are not to everyone’s liking.
“The Salvation Army does not help,” claims Bogaard, “They abuse [homeless people] mentally, and don’t even hesitate to starve them. I know of people who aren’t even allowed to eat in there. Cut off for life. Now, how is that possible, to be cut off for life from the Salvation Army?
“I fought that. And the day I fought that is the day I went to jail.”
Eileen Vance-Duchesne is the executive assistant to Chief Doris Bill of Kwanlin Dun First Nation and is responsible for the Vulnerable People at Risk file. “These temporary shelters are not helping anyone move forward. They give you a bed for the night, and then you’re back on the street by day. That is a concern. We get frustrated when we see our citizens have to wait until 11:30 to get into the shelter and it’s thirty below outside. Somebody’s going to freeze to death.
“The Salvation Army currently has no programming. We want something with programming bringing meaningful resolution and helps individuals move ahead in their lives. . “I am sure we are not the only ones concerned with the new facility. Not much has changed from the old facility. Of course we are glad that have a place to sleep for those nights when people need to sleep there, but they’re not doing it in a meaningful way.”
It’s fair to say that the homeless are the most marginalized members of our population, and one of the major problems that the homelessness population is faced with is the issue of stigmatization.
“There’s a real stigma to homelessness,” says Jeremy Linville, who has witnessed poverty from a young age, “The people you see down by the river are never going to be able to walk into Superstore and get a job. The manager will take one look at them and tell them to get out.
“We could help these people, but as a society we choose not to. You gotta see these people as people, not just bums.”
They are human beings first.
And just like everyone else, they have a story all their own.