Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

NEW MEASURES IMPLEMENTED – A Community Safety Plan for the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter (above) is designed to maximize safety for the facility’s clients, guests, and members of the public passing the downtown Whitehorse building.

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost

Safety plan developed for emergency shelter

A new Community Safety Plan for the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter and surrounding community has been developed with help from Public Safety Canada and local stakeholders.

By Whitehorse Star on July 2, 2020

Revised - A new Community Safety Plan for the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter and surrounding community has been developed with help from Public Safety Canada and local stakeholders.

But the plan has disappointed NDP MLA Liz Hanson, who said Thursday afternoon there has been insufficient consultation with business owners and residents affected by the facility’s presence.

The shelter, whose management the Yukon government took over from the Salvation Army, has been the subject of numerous complaints of rowdy street behaviour by those who use it.

The work on the plan advocates a community-based approach to identify ways to address safety concerns, while remaining focused on serving the Yukon’s vulnerable community members.

The plan identifies “four key priorities that will enhance the shelter’s commitment to providing a safe place for those experiencing homelessness, while also being responsive to the concerns of local residents and businesses,” the government said Tuesday. These priorities are:

• ensuring the safety of shelter clients, drop-in guests and staff;

• enhancing the shelter’s strategic and operational governance;

• creating a safe and harmonious neighbourhood for shelter clients, and neighbouring residents and businesses; and

• ensuring that clients can access culturally-based programs, services and other supports that identify and remove barriers to wellness, healing, education, employability, self-sufficiency, and cultural and community inclusion.

“The safety plan includes 14 high-level goals and 26 specific actions that are meant to achieve the goal of an emergency shelter that is safe, responsive to the needs of vulnerable citizens, and respectful of those who reside or work in the immediate vicinity,” the government said. It’s reviewing the plan and its recommendations.

Some of the actions have already been implemented and several more are in development.

A committee will be established to oversee the ongoing implementation of the plan, which will continue to apply harm reduction principles and practices to the delivery of services at the shelter.

“Our government looks forward to working with all of our valued community stakeholders, local businesses and neighbours in using the Community Safety Plan as guide to help us address collective neighbourhood concerns,” said Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost.

“We are committed to working with our partners to create a community that helps all members thrive.

“The actions in this plan will help us provide the best supports possible to clients while addressing concerns of the downtown Whitehorse community.

“Working together, with open minds and a spirit of partnership that focuses on how best to support those most in need, we believe that we can better address the complex health and social needs in our community,” Frost added.

Exterior renovations, now underway, include a six-foot fence along the west side of the shelter, which will deter guests from accessing the back of the facility.

Seven specially designed benches and planter boxes are being installed along the Alexander Street side of the shelter, which also borders Fourth Avenue.

These benches will provide more useable space for shelter guests and a safer place to congregate, the government said. The benches can be removed if necessary.

The Department of Community Services has stationed an EMS paramedic at the facility, 10 hours a day seven days a week.

Since the past January, more than 1,200 interactions with shelter clients have been attended to by these paramedics.

The shelter has partnered with Mental Wellness and Substance Services to provide psychiatric nursing and mental wellness counselling and social supports to guests, as well as enhanced integration with the Referred Care Clinic through a shared outreach nurse. That will ensure access to a suite of integrated supports and improved access to primary care.

In 2019, Health and Social Services added a social worker and an outreach worker to support facility guests and connect them to available resources.

On-the-land and recreational programming with a First Nations focus has been offered since 2019. A major emphasis has been on guest- led programming and activities.

Health and Social Services will continue to work with its government and NGO stakeholders to look at developing further programs and activities.

A guest advisory Committee was created in the summer of 2019 to provide the department with advice and recommendations about programming and services.

“This work is currently being reinvigorated, with a focus on developing peer-based employment opportunities, along with establishing the overall framework for how best to engage guests and peers,” the government said.

The shelter has launched a newsletter that highlights its activities and programming, and provides some general information to the community on operations.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, shelter staff have been working diligently on measures designed to prevent the potential spread of the virus within the facility and among its guests.

This time last year, there were an average of 55 to 65 overnight guests per day. The overnight shelter numbers for May 2020 ran from 18 to 39 guests per day.

Key measures include:

• Screening overnight shelter guests for COVID-19 symptoms at intake. A detailed set of operational guidelines for this screening process has been developed.

• Ten housing units on the facility’s third floor are being held as future isolation units for guests or shelter users diagnosed with COVID-19.

• Since late March, guests who require minimal supports have been moved into temporary off-site accommodation, to reduce the number of people staying overnight.

• On-site dinners have been restricted to overnight shelter guests only. A to-go meal option is being provided to all shelter guests at the Whitehorse Food Bank.

“We have taken measures to reduce the number of people in the shelter at one time, while ensuring that vulnerable people have a place of respite and a place to connect to health and social supports, if needed,” the government said.

• More on-site cleaning staff are providing 16 hours a day of continuous cleaning services, which meets or exceeds Canadian disinfection guidelines. Shelter beds and mattresses are disinfected daily.

Hanson, who representing Whitehorse Centre, condemned what she says was a lack of consultation with business owners and residents who are affected by the shelter’s environment.

“I’m really disappointed because I think that the downtown community deserves better than this,” Hanson told the Star.

Most downtown community members approach the situation at the shelter with a strong desire to find solutions that will work for everyone, she added.

“I hear a strong sense of compassion; they want the centre to work,” Hanson said.

An access to information request revealed that the government was delayed in the initiative to develop a safety plan, and rushed to complete it by deadline.

Community outreach meetings were often held during office hours, Hanson noted. That made it difficult for community members to attend who work or have children.

“You leave out the voice of those who have a stake in the success of this, and we lose to the extent that shut off their voice,” Hanson said.

She pointed out that most of the safety plan focuses on internal management. She said she would like to see a more whole-of-community solution involving residents, business owners, the Yukon Liquor Board and city planners.

“(The government) can’t keep ignoring the concerns from the neighbourhood, and I think there needs to be a way more serious and honest approach to bringing the whole community together so we can improve the quality of life from the shelter users to the small business owners,” Hanson said.

Comments (27)

Up 0 Down 2

Timber on Jul 8, 2020 at 6:35 pm

What you see on 4th Avenue from a First Nation perspective is the result of 400 years of colonialism. It has taken that long for the problem to build up and it will take that long to fix. The sooner we all get on board and recognize that yes we are part of the problem, the sooner we can fix it.

Up 0 Down 0

Anon on Jul 8, 2020 at 3:26 pm

@Lynx You are incorrect. The "drunk tank" was relocated to the WCC years ago following a review of the treatment of Raymond Silverfox in the downtown cells. Drunk people do indeed go up to the jail, and are held in the space designed for them. The jail itself has 193 beds, but that is completely separate from the drunk tank.


Up 0 Down 0

Bandit on Jul 8, 2020 at 1:04 pm

@ Lynx
You know absolutely zero about what goes on. Since mid-March 2012 when the new facility opened up, all people picked up for being intoxicated in public have been brought to the APU at WCC not the RCMP station. I don't think they have much for cells there anymore except for a few reserved for Major crimes.

Up 6 Down 7

Lynx on Jul 7, 2020 at 7:34 pm

@Clay There are 200 beds in the drunk tank at the police station? Wow. You realize that inebriated people are brought to cells downtown and not to the jail on Range Road right?

Up 28 Down 6

drum on Jul 7, 2020 at 4:15 pm

They have their fancy new benches - high backs trying to shield passers by and local residents from seeing what is actually happening in front of the Shelter. How much of taxpayers money did it cost to build them and how long will it be before they are vandalized?

Up 21 Down 5

Clay Cliff on Jul 7, 2020 at 2:21 pm

@ Lynx
The jail is currently underutilized. Around 40 people currently with 200 beds there. Do the math. I'll wait.

Up 27 Down 6

Groucho d'North on Jul 7, 2020 at 8:43 am

Just once I'd like to read about programs being implemented to help these people to achieve a better quality of life and perhaps work to reduce their dependence on booze and drugs. As this sad story goes on chapter after chapter it appears that government is focused on maintaining the status quo for these people. Perhaps that's why they abandoned the centre of Hope name, there is none left.

Up 16 Down 18

Lynx on Jul 5, 2020 at 9:49 pm

@One Lesser Voice

Do you want a tax increase to pay for a larger jail and larger hospital to deal with the addiction riddled homeless population? If not, then stop pretending that enforcing laws around drinking, drugs and whatever else would do anything to fix the problem. If the homeless are taken off the street, they usually end up taking away police and medical resources filling up hospital beds and jail cells. As for Off Sales, the guy purchased his liquor license before the last government decided to put the shelter in its current location.

Up 42 Down 6

One One-Lesser-Voice on Jul 4, 2020 at 11:52 pm

My observation is that the current situation casts a shadow over Whitehorse.
It's not improving and it's a major problem for local businesses and people on the street.
Why pretend it's working when it's a failure? Why allow alcohol sales across the street and public drinking and all the bad behaviour that comes with it? To do nothing shows the gov does not care enough for the people who use the shelter or people who drive by it or walk in the area or work nearby or run a business in the area. It's shameful to allow all the bad behaviour to continue in plain sight.

Up 52 Down 5

U. P. Pall on Jul 4, 2020 at 7:35 am

It’s quite comical to observe the absolute failures of the criminal justice system and the health and social services politicos, coalesce into one giant, live abstraction of representative, interdepartmental, government stupidity.

At the building where HOPE was removed by the government we see long term, violent offenders in the milieu drunk on some strange new brew laughing, kibbitzing, in between their societal schittzing. There was one person there with 30 or so current offences before the courts as he has done for most of his life. Laughing at you, at your expense, never, ever providing a moment of recompense...

Up 47 Down 6

drum on Jul 3, 2020 at 9:10 pm

This s*it is happening within a half block of a school. They are sitting beside the school waiting for their free lunch. This is not right.

Up 39 Down 3

drum on Jul 3, 2020 at 7:16 pm

Lots of the "Guests/Clients of the Homeless Shelter have cars. They park in front of Duffys and the Alpine Bakery. Free meals do not mean people are homeless. Lots of them have cars and homes - they just like to drink in downtown Whitehorse and collect welfare.

Up 15 Down 5

Lost In the Yukon on Jul 3, 2020 at 6:34 pm

Dearest Riverrat: full congrats to the current Minister of Health and Social Services ... I believe this their longest tenure in one job ... ever.

Up 48 Down 5

drum on Jul 3, 2020 at 6:25 pm

Shirley is now going to give the "CLIENTS" and GUESTS benches to sit on OUT FRONT and drink in public which they are actually doing in public now - we were told many years ago we could not drink in public. We have created out own East Hastings just like in Vancouver. it is disgusting.

Up 27 Down 4

drum on Jul 3, 2020 at 6:00 pm

lots of them have cars and park in front of Duffys and Alpine Bakery and across the street.

Up 60 Down 6

Doug Easley on Jul 3, 2020 at 11:09 am

It's a bad situation. It isn't even the location as these people need somewhere that is accessible to them. They don't have cars, won't get on the bus. Putting it back by the residences will be bad. But to make it into a facility where public drinking and drunks are welcome is not at all ok. That should never have happened. It started when this Health minister decided that low barrier was the way to go. Now it's so hush hush because anyone who calls her on it will be accused of discrimination. This should have never been allowed to happen. These people need help, not assistance to stay drunk. And the seating??? Get rid of those planter beds. I have never felt more sorry for the folks who work in the area. Change the tune of the shelter and make it a shelter - to feed people and give them access to a bed - not a safe-haven for drunk people.

Up 57 Down 4

drum on Jul 3, 2020 at 10:22 am

Smoke and mirrors. Nothing to ensure the safety and well being of the residents and business owners in the area who are Taxpayers and help pay for the running of the free three meals a day and a comfy bed shelter. I was driving along 4th Avenue on Tuesday - large group of drunk people gathered around the two trees in front of the shelter on 4th. They were pushing each other, it seemed to be an angry altercation and one of them staggered onto the road - I barely managed to avoid hitting him. It is terrible to see the law being broken everyday right in the middle of our town.

Up 34 Down 13

Matthew on Jul 3, 2020 at 7:35 am

I'll keep saying this over and over... Pauline Frost can't put all her effort into 1 title if she is in charge of 3! Think about it, is a mechanic also a plumber and carpenter? Is a dentist also a medical doctor and a mechanic? See where I'm going with this!? ALL her efforts need to address ONE title, not THREE!

Up 33 Down 7

Low Hanging Fruit in Low Yield Environments on Jul 3, 2020 at 7:23 am

Well now... The monument to systemic racism is going to have MO. I think that it can be safely stated and agreed to by most people who have lived in the Yukon for any significant amount of time that policies and procedures in YG are as helpful as screen doors on submarines - Useless, irrelevant and dangerous to the user if applied in the working environment.

YG is so politically corrupted there is no safety and there can be no safety because it operates by virtue of the lowest common denominator... Base emotionalism... The prejudices of irrationalism advanced as some nascent abstraction of equality while achieving the opposite - Pitchforks and torches for everyone... Hurry, hurry, leave those facts and contexts right where you found them. They have no power here!

Up 2 Down 24

Wilf Carter on Jul 3, 2020 at 12:28 am

Safety plan includes using school gym's and other large buildings like the Canada games center if the problem is large.

Up 15 Down 46

A friend of shelter on Jul 3, 2020 at 12:17 am

Maybe people should actually stop in and see what's happening there. They have awesome staff who cares for everyone.
Don't degrade it from the outside.

Up 12 Down 39

Riverrat on Jul 2, 2020 at 10:24 pm

TMYK, I am not saying for a minute that the new homeless shelter is a bad thing, because I believe in Canada all people regardless of position need a warm place to sleep, It is not for me to judge how each and every one of those unfortunate people have ended up where they have.
The new homeless shelter was a creation of the last Yukon Conservative Party government, the Liberals are trying to find a way to make it work, under trying circumstances.
LIY, obviously you don't know Pauline, one of the finest, hard working, honest, ethical, tough as nails, probably has ten times the fight you have people I know. I firmly believe if she chooses to run in the next election, you will be on here complaining about her and calling her a two term minister.

Up 38 Down 4

Groucho d'North on Jul 2, 2020 at 9:57 pm

Lots of warm fuzzy Newspeak that says nothing. Lofty goals and objectives designed to indicate some tangible work will be taking place. I have one question: How will they measure success of these innovative approaches?

Up 59 Down 8

Joseph campbell on Jul 2, 2020 at 3:19 pm

4 months after the lockdown and the government is only now creating a plan for the 4th ave bed and breakfast.

Up 66 Down 9

TMYK on Jul 2, 2020 at 2:19 pm

Go read the report. It’s all buzzwords and fluff. There is no real plan to keep the public and the nearby business safe. This has been one of this Liberal government’s greatest failures and a perfect example of what happens when you let the bureaucrats dictate government policy.

Up 75 Down 8

Salt on Jul 2, 2020 at 2:19 pm

Pity the local community. Not a single positive measure taken to improve their lot after having this travesty foisted on them. They are actually making the current situation worse by increasing seating on the street. It is a perfect sign of our times how a group of addicts can flagrantly break the law on a main street downtown with no concern of repercussions or for local law-abiding taxpayers.

Up 66 Down 11

Lost In the Yukon on Jul 2, 2020 at 2:04 pm

Next to zero stated as to how local businesses and residents will be respected and protected ... seems that it is becoming their responsibility to create a safe environment for the “guests” ... classic victim blaming on the part of Pauline “one term and done” Frost.

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