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It was overcast with flurries and 16 C, but in spite of the weather, a small crowd gathered at the corner of Main Street and Third Avenue to promote better housing in the Yukon.

Members of the group wrung their hands and danced from side to side to stave off the cold. It was a visceral reminder that warmth, protection from the elements, and a sense of safety are essential to surviving in the North.

The crowd was called to that spot by the Yukon Anti Poverty Coalition (YAPC). It was there that in October, the organization, which advocates for the reduction of poverty and homelessness, installed a “Kindness Meter” a colourful parking meter that collects coins for donation to local charities.

On Tuesday, in recognition of National Housing Day in Canada, the coalition set up a camera and was asking passersby to record their thoughts on housing, for a short video that will go up on the YAPC’s website.

The stunt’s purpose, said YAPC co ordinator Kristina Craig, was to give people who live here an opportunity to have their voices heard.

The group also intends to send the video to Ottawa for consideration as the federal government prepares its national housing strategy, which is slated for release in 2017.

“There is a recognition (by the government of Canada) that we need a better housing system,” Craig said to the camera.

“Housing is such a fundamental piece of being healthy . My hope is that we can take that momentum and just bring it right home.”

In a 24 hour period spanning April 13 14 of this year, the Council of Yukon First Nations and the Yukon Planning Group on Homelessness conducted the first point in time count of precariously housed people in Whitehorse.

It was revealed that 256 people in the city were “homeless or at risk of homelessness” in those 24 hours.

But Esther Armstrong, a housing navigator at the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, noted that attaching a number to the precariously housed can be problematic.

For example, the “hidden homeless” people who crash with friends, or who live in unstable, unsustainable situations are difficult to count.

“Hidden homeless is hidden, so how do you ever really know how many people?” she asked, after recording her clip for the YAPC video Tuesday morning.

“And when you look at (people in) precarious housing,” she added, “one thing has to go wrong and they’ve lost their home as well.”

She described the hidden homeless in Whitehorse as “people staying wherever they can, doing whatever they need to do, to get a roof over their head for the night.”

Women especially, said Armstrong, will avoid shelters out of concerns for their safety.

They’ll turn to “couch surfing, trading sex for shelter anything,” she said.

While Kaushee’s Place and Betty’s Haven offer safe spaces to women in abusive situations, Armstrong said options are lacking for women who are not fleeing violence.

To coincide with National Housing Day, Jean Yves Duclos, the federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, released a compilation and analysis of opinions from more than 7,000 Canadians who identified areas of need, and made proposals for how to eliminate homelessness, and make housing in general more affordable.

The report, titled What We Heard, will inform the federal government’s national housing strategy.

According to the report, on any given night in Canada, nearly 35,000 people don’t have a bed of their own own to sleep in, and every year, more than 150,000 people use emergency shelters.

Indigenous people living off reserve are disproportionately affected by inadequate housing. One in five live in overcrowded or unsafe accommodations, according to What We Heard.

House prices overall in Canada are rising at a concerning rate. In the last 15 years, “house prices in most of Canada grew almost three times faster than incomes,” said the report. In Toronto and Vancouver, these prices grew four times faster.

The anti poverty coalition supports a “housing first” approach to addressing homelessness, and the social problems exacerbated by poverty.

The idea is that when people have permanent, independent housing first, they are better equipped to improve their lives.

Once people are adequately housed, they can take full advantage of other supports and services, like education, mental health and addictions counseling and job training.

Charlotte Hrenchuk, co ordinator at the Yukon Status of Women Council and YAPC co chair, explained it this way: “It comes from a rights based standpoint, that housing is a human right, that everyone has the right to safe, decent shelter.

“If you’re homeless and you’re constantly wondering where you’re going to sleep at night, especially in weather like this, then you don’t have time or the luxury, really, to think about other issues in your life,” she said.

During the recent election campaign, the Yukon Liberal Party promised to take a housing first approach to improving the lives and outcomes for Yukoners affected by poverty, addictions and mental health issues.
marco polo biography for kids 'Hidden homeless' can be difficult to detect