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How can Whistler's next council best support social services?

Election issue: 'Uncomfortable conversations' necessary for candidates

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While there are no doubt many people searching for housing in Whistler at the moment, one local resident took an unusual step to help secure his own—a direct request of mayor and council.

Joseph Michael Kai-tsu Liu Roqueni was working as a photographer on the mountain in March when he caught an edge and shattered his femur into four pieces.

Due to his injury, Liu had to leave his staff accommodation and move into a place in Creekside.

But with that unit set to convert to short-term nightly rentals in December, Liu and his partner have been looking for something more permanent.

"What can we do, right? It is what it is," Liu said.

"I've been looking for a place all summer long. I've been rejected, I'm not going to exaggerate, probably a dozen times."

Widening his search, Liu wrote to mayor and council seeking help in connecting with second homeowners and property management companies.

The idea is that Liu and his partner would house sit or pay rent in a rarely-used home while Liu recovers from his injury and resumes training for his global running expeditions (see www.run2theend.com).

Liu's letter was received by council and directed to staff.

While a clever stab at a solution, Liu's situation itself is not entirely unique—there are currently more than 1,000 people on the Whistler Housing Authority rental waitlist, and the primary reason people visit the Whistler Food Bank is injury or illness.

Demand for services has been increasing in recent years—how can Whistler's next council best support the social fabric of Whistler?

"I would say that we are looking for a council that is really interested in continuing a very human conversation around affordability," said Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) executive director Jackie Dickinson.

"That is something that, as people are in this campaign process to be part of this council for the next four years, I really encourage them to be part of those dialogues and those conversations."

The WCSS staff feels incredibly fortunate to be trusted with people's stories, but while it can share trends and stats, those stories are confidential, Dickinson said.

"But I do think that there are a lot of people in this community that want to feel heard as we engage in this campaign, and I don't think that it's hard to go out there and find those stories," she said.

"What I'm encouraging people to do is sit in the uncomfortability of these conversations, because they are uncomfortable, but they are so necessary to figure out where we go next, and I think that when and if people feel heard, that is what's truly going to create change within our community."

As for specific policy directions that can improve the wellbeing of all Whistlerites, Dickinson said she would encourage "housing-first" initiatives.

"When we can house people in safe and meaningful ways, it greatly impacts people's wellbeing," she said.

"Housing is a fundamental human right. If we cannot house our population in a safe way, we pay the price."

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