Yukon’s NDP says the minister of health and social services doesn’t understand what “Housing First” means.

The issue came up recently when NDP MLA Kate White asked Minister Pauline Frost if the 22 transitional housing units at the new Salvation Army Centre of Hope in Whitehorse would use a Housing First model.

The term refers to an approach to homelessness that provides housing to people, without pre-conditions such as psychiatric treatment or sobriety.

Frost replied that the new Salvation Army units would constitute a Housing First initiative, and later repeated that to reporters. She also went on to elaborate, though, that alcohol or drugs would not be allowed in the units.

Then, this week Frost said the transition units will not in fact be Housing First units, although she added that they will use “a component of the Housing First model.”

White says that Frost’s understanding of Housing First is inconsistent with what it actually means, adding that Frost cannot simply arbitrarily change the meaning of the term.

“When the minister reinvents what ‘Housing First’ is, and she talks about a continuum of housing first, anywhere, across the country, internationally, the experts will disagree with that statement,” White said.

White says the meaning of Housing First is very clear — it’s a harm reduction approach where people are allowed to drink or use drugs while being housed, and that access to permanent housing is not contingent upon sobriety.

White says in addition, the Salvation Army’s emergency shelter does not constitute Housing First either, because it is not permanent housing.