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
• 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
“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
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
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.