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Canada's Yukon residents must change attitude on poverty to find solutions, report says

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic
Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press

A new report on poverty in Yukon, Canada, is calling for action from the territorial government.

However, poverty activists are also calling for Yukoners to adjust their attitudes.

The report, called "Poverty Amongst Plenty," makes five recommendations including the development of a poverty reduction strategy, creating a secretariat to implement it and monitoring outcomes.

It also calls for the government to provide housing options and lobby the federal government to fund housing initiatives.

The report's author, Nick Falvo, said housing is a better investment than jails or shelters.

"Interestingly though, affordable housing with or without social work support per person, per night is more cost effective."

However, research shows governments tend to criminalize poverty. For instance, last year a tent city sprung up in Whitehorse to protest the lack of affordable housing in Yukon.

During the last legislative sitting the government passed legislation making that kind of protest illegal.

Researchers say attitudes must shift and it must start with the public.

"But if the public is behind certain ideas about poverty – that it is bad people, that it is lazy people, that it is undeserving people – then government is not as likely to act," said Stephen Gaetz from the Canadian Homelessness Research Network.

Even the business community agrees with Gaetz and Falvo.

"We're affluent. We have husbands and wives working. We have our toys, we have our homes and when we look at the numbers in homelessness we think, 'I'm working, my wife's working, get a job. Get a job and you'll get everything you need.’ So there's part of the problem," said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

Karp said it's up to the territorial government to take the lead in shifting Yukoners’ thinking about homelessness and poverty.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.