A long-awaited permanent housing facility for vulnerable Yukoners will open next Tuesday, alleviating demand for shelter beds in Whitehorse.
“We wanted to look at high-acuity clients and providing them the supports to try to move into permanent housing,” Health Minister Pauline Frost told media Tuesday afternoon.
“What I’m hoping is, by the end of this month, we’ll see less pressure on bed requirements at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.”
The new Housing First facility, opening on Fifth Avenue at Wood Street, will provide 16 people with permanent, low-barrier housing.
The government’s Housing and Community Outreach Unit is working to move 16 people from the shelter by-name list into the permanent units on Fifth Avenue.
Clients will be moved into the Housing First facility in stages, starting later this month.
“The housing philosophies and the support around the Housing First was to try to encourage the medium acuity clients that perhaps would be more successful with supports,” Frost said.
The facility’s opening is taking place alongside restructuring initiatives at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter to house the high number of people without stable housing in Whitehorse.
The Housing First philosophy centres around the idea that vulnerable populations need a secure home before other supports can be helpful.
It has been adopted by the Yukon government in recent initiatives to fight homelessness and was recently incorporated into the emergency shelter.
Twenty beds previously allocated to transitional housing in the shelter are now permanent housing. The shelter and the Fifth Avenue facility will provide a total of 36 permanent beds to vulnerable Yukoners.
The number of new permanent beds will alleviate pressures to house the 50 people Frost says frequent the shelter on a nightly basis.
Yukon Party MLAs expressed concerns in the legislature Tuesday over the facility’s late opening date and the lack of consultation with neighbours. They also raised the $4.1 million price tag, which exceeds the government contract registry for the project by $1.4 million.
The project was originally slated for completion by last June.
Speaking to media, Frost denied the project was delayed.
“I wouldn’t say there are delays; I think we worked with our partners and we had a target,” Frost said. “We wanted to move the clients in at the end of the month, and we’re still on that target.”
Frost said her department worked with Safe at Home and the Yukon Housing Corp. to ensure that proper supports were in place at the new facility before opening.
During question period Tuesday, Yukon Party MLA Geraldine Van Bibber accused the Liberals of announcing the shelter in 2017 without consulting local residents. Consultation letters were sent to neighbours after the fact, she said.
Frost countered that her department was working “as transparently as we possibly can” on the project. She said her department spoke with neighbours and worked with the planning committee in collaboration with the housing corporation.
“We are doing it with integrity,” she said. “We are engaging.”
Van Bibber queried the higher cost for the project, a 52 per cent increase from the initially budgeted $2.7 million.
A later press release from the Yukon Party called the increase in spending a mismanagement of funds.
“This project is the latest in a long list of projects that the Liberals have mismanaged, leading them to go over-budget,” the release said.
Frost said project construction on the facility was awarded for $3.9 million. The project utilized the $2.7 million allocated in the budget. The remaining $1.4 million was secured through federal funding.
“The higher-than-anticipated construction bid is a positive sign of the strong economy, engaged workforce and busy construction industry,” Frost told the Star in an email this morning.
She defended the spending as necessary to ensure Yukoners’ safety and security.
“Housing is defined as a human right,” she said. “Every person requires shelter, and we want to ensure that this happens.”