Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Gabrielle Plonka

YG PLANS CALLED INADEQUATE – Annette Peters (left) and Kerry Nolan are working with the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition to amplify the voices of people living in poverty as controversy swells around issues in the streets outside the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.

‘This is the lowest point I’ve ever seen the shelter’

Whitehorse poverty advocates are working in tandem with the Department of Health and Social Services to champion for more addiction services and safety measures at the increasingly volatile Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.

By Gabrielle Plonka on August 16, 2019

Whitehorse poverty advocates are working in tandem with the Department of Health and Social Services to champion for more addiction services and safety measures at the increasingly volatile Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.

“I’ve seen so much pain and agony in this last six months from these people that are suffering, because nobody is helping them,” Annette Peters told the Star Wednesday. “This is the lowest point I’ve ever seen the shelter.”

Peters is a recent graduate of Voices Influencing Change. The five-week program helps Yukoners with lived experience of poverty explore their story and advocate for better policy.

The Voices program is hosted by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.

Next Wednesday, Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost will meet with the two organizations to discuss improvement strategies for the shelter. 

Voices Influencing Change facilitator Kerry Nolan says she believes the meeting to be essential for improving the experiences of shelter users.

“It’s groups like ours, and voices like Annette’s, (that) are voices for the more vulnerable people who don’t have their voice, or aren’t able to use their voice,” she said.

The meeting will take place more than a week after Frost released a statement addressed to Yukoners listing action items for shelter improvement (see last Monday’s and Wednesday’s Stars).

The list included a block watch presence, a redesigned outdoor meeting space, an EMS worker on-site, meals for shelter guests only and increased programming and community engagement.

For Peters, the minister’s plan comes up short on addressing the real issues.

“This (action plan) is meant for the businesses, for the people who don’t utilize the shelter, for the people who probably have never even been inside the shelter,” Peters said.

She has lived the experience of poverty in Whitehorse and once frequented the shelter’s predecessor, the Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope.

Now, she lives in an apartment across the street from the shelter and uses her training with the anti-poverty coalition to advocate for change.

Peters says her first priority is safety for those utilizing the shelter and living around it, and suggests training Kwanlin Dün peace officers as a better alternative to the RCMP.

These safety measures should look after members of the outside community as well as the inside community, she said. They include sober shelter residents who are weary of the situation and residents who frequently harm themselves while under the influence.

“If you’re sober, or an elderly person, how safe is that?” Peters asked.

“Our whole community has been affected by this. It’s not good to be outcasted in your own environment.” 

She added that the current situation wouldn’t feel safe for a permanent on-site EMS worker.

Still, beefing up security at the shelter is complicated because of the level of training that is necessary in defence, communication, trauma and overdose response.

Beyond agreeing that increased security is a necessity, Peters said the minister’s recommendations won’t foster long-term positive change.

“That’s still not going back to the root of the issue,” she said. “It seems like they’re just trying to put a Band-aid over it. But we’re not going to be happy until we know our community members are safe.”

The real improvements will come from increased counselling services for mental health and addiction issues, she said.

“(The minister) needs to look inside at the people and realize it’s the people that need help. Not the community outside, but the community inside.

“If you start getting counsellors in there and you start trying to help these people, maybe it’ll change.”

Peters added that increased support should include those who don’t suffer from addiction.

“There’s more than alcohol and drug addicts that are transients,” she said. “There’s people with mental disabilities and people on their healing journey that need support as well.”

The dangerous environment at the shelter creates an unsafe space for those trying to live in sobriety and use shelter facilities like showers and meal services, Peters said.

Christine Tapp, the department’s director of social supports, oversees shelter operations.

She told the Star her department is fighting to find long-term solutions of the kind Peters is advocating for. However, the situation is challenging.

“We’re seeing individuals who are having complicated and unmet social challenges,” she said. “We’re providing a space where they are welcomed and we want to connect with them.”

Since the government took over shelter operations early this year, occupancy has skyrocketed to four times the numbers reported by the Sally Ann.

Tapp thinks the significant rise might be owing to the shelter’s low-barrier policy, meaning tenants can receive a meal and a roof over their head without abstaining from alcohol or drugs. This is a dramatic shift from how Sally Ann operated the facility starting in late 2017.

“When we took over, we were very clear that we are operating a low-barrier shelter, which is a pretty significant challenge,” Tapp told the Star.

This challenge is made harder by the mixed-use system inherited from the Sally Ann approach.

A mixed-use shelter provides no separation of occupants at different stages of need or recovery. Sheltering the different population groups in one system creates “a very complex layering of different programs,” Tapp said.

Officials are looking to see if interior design solutions exist to solve the problem created by the mixed-use system, she added.

This would help to address Peters’ hope that sober shelter users will feel safe. However, they are watching to see how programming evolves at the shelter before making decisions.

For the moment, Tapp is expecting to announce some changes to shelter operations this fall.

Currently, her department is working with advocacy groups, inter-department partners and a shelter guest advisory committee to find a path worth forging.

Unable to release details until more decisions are made, Tapp suggested one change might include a peer-run block system. That “is recognized as best practice” in other communities.

Tapp’s team is also hoping to expand counselling services, and is working toward a partnership with the government’s Mental Wellness and Substance Abuse Services.

Currently, there is one social worker on-site for one-on-one support and a staff member working as a case aid.

Tapp clarified that contrary to Frost’s suggestion, there are no plans to limit meal services at this time.

The shelter’s exterior will also be renovated to create an intentional gathering space for guests. The current situation, which often sees crowds of shelter users gathered outside, has been a hot topic in the shelter debate thus far.

“I think what people see a lot is the outside of the facility, and it’s almost like it’s unfinished,” she said.

“This is obviously having an impact on other neighbours.”

Tapp added that she believes Whitehorse residents are basing too much judgment about the shelter’s status on the crowds outside, which signify heightened occupancy and “individuals feeling welcomed” to visit.

“(Residents) aren’t seeing the great things happening inside, and that is including the challenges.”

Peters says that since living across the street from the shelter, she’s found herself wrapped up in a stigma that is worsening in the city.

“It’s lumped us all as one,” she said. “If you live in the vicinity, you are living at the shelter.”

Peters recounted a recent experience where she was told to “go back to the shelter” while sitting outside her apartment. When she corrected her verbal assailant, they told her that “it’s all the same.” 

“I’m not drinking, I’m not drugging, I have jobs,” she said. “It’s prejudice on their behalf. What they see is what they think they know.”

Comments (22)

Up 39 Down 3

drum on Aug 20, 2019 at 10:08 pm

Give me money and the whole thing will be fixed!!!!!!! That is so funny. The taxpayers of this Territory have given (millions) more than should be expected of hard working people for years and years - who do they think is paying for the Welfare these people are on? Who is paying for the low cost housing they are living in, who is paying for everything that they receive which allows them to think they deserve to receive more and not ever work?

Up 34 Down 2

drum on Aug 20, 2019 at 9:40 pm

Cold weather will drive the people from "East Hastings" to their communities and low cost housing in this town - they will live nicely on their welfare checks for the winter. Things will heat up again in the spring next year because the Minister - Pauline Frost hopes we have short memories -guess what - we do not!!!!! She thinks that we will not find her responsible for this disgrace - this is not East Hastings! or is it?

Up 4 Down 49

Shame, shame...... on Aug 20, 2019 at 7:09 pm

I have never in my life read so many ill informed, ignorant comments on one story before in my entire life. Not one of you people have a clue what most of these people have experienced in their lives!
You sit up high having lead your privileged lives and you judge others. Remember don't judge another human until you have walked a mile in their shoes.

Up 59 Down 4

Yukon on Aug 19, 2019 at 10:14 pm

Low Point - that is funny - they are blaming someone else for the drunks hanging around the "Shelter" intimidating people, fighting, taking over the sidewalks around the "Shelter", threatening people trying to go into local businesses (who pay huge City taxes - the people who go to the "Shelter" pay no taxes) As usual it is someone else's fault.
When the Salvation Army ran this facility and the one across the road for years there was no drunks allowed.

Up 67 Down 6

Real Talk on Aug 19, 2019 at 12:50 pm

@Brian,
thank you for your comment. That is what is required. It's tough to understand that some of these people are happy being the way they are and will not change nor do they want to.

Up 68 Down 6

Don Trump on Aug 18, 2019 at 7:52 pm

Some blunt but very good comments here.
People who are drinking or on drugs should not be allowed entry into the shelter.

Meals for non residents should be available somewhere else in town, maybe at the new bus depot by city hall.
Get some boots on the ground and take away open alcohol. You can bet they will move away when this happens.

Stop all the blaming for we understand the issues at play. Some people need to be pushed to turn their lives around and to view them as complete victims is not correct.

Up 75 Down 17

Brian on Aug 18, 2019 at 8:34 am

Shut it down. What a complete embarrassment.
If a person has no self respect, why should I be concerned.
A large group of losers who have chosen to be losers. And our taxes facilitate this.
It’s BS, it’s a public embarrassment, time to make people accountable for their actions.
Many of those losers don’t want to do anything but be what they are.

That’s why we can comment and blog about this on our smart phones from our jobs. Because we chose not to be losers.

Up 76 Down 7

Sober on Aug 18, 2019 at 8:00 am

Two major components missing here with this entire fiasco...

1) Poor/no leaderhip/direct guidance from the people attempting to run this embarrassment (AKA Pauline Frost & Company).
2) If one doesn't WANT to change, there will be no change. I speak from experience in my own sobriety.

Up 63 Down 4

George on Aug 18, 2019 at 7:02 am

The answer is here in these comments, if it isn't obvious you are living in cognitive dissonance.
Someone around here said it best I think (I don't know who...");

"Shame on us for making this behaviour acceptable."

Up 41 Down 5

Dave Down Under on Aug 18, 2019 at 3:10 am

Some awesome comments here, I'm impressed by the depth of understanding.
The idea that taking people outside of the downtown area is beneficial is spot on.

The idea that the tentacles of NGO or better yet, QANGO operations are of no use: well it's time to acknowledge that as the truth.
The centralization of NGO to quasi-autonomous NGO is the opposite of the devolution that was supposed to happen when Yukon grew up.

Think about it, and try to get it together.

Up 75 Down 5

drum on Aug 17, 2019 at 4:02 pm

We now have our own "East Hastings". And that is never going to go away. I feel sorry for the law abiding, sober people who go to the "Shelter" for a hot meal and some peaceful company. Saw two cop cars there today around 10:45 - the RCMP must be fed up getting called and they can do nothing with the drunks - where can they take them? Is there a big enough facility to put them? I am still so sorry for Duffy's and Alpine Bakery - there revenue must have dropped by a huge percentage - they should be suing the City and YG. They created this problem. The Salvation took care of the needy - not the drunks and fighters or trouble makers.

Up 45 Down 11

Josey Wales on Aug 17, 2019 at 10:54 am

Is that right eh, thee lowest?
Funny that I have never seen a time when folks spirit in our community was so low, never seen a time here when the enforcement crews were so disinterested, never seen a time when so many “community leaders” have their head so deep in their colon, never seen a time when alleged sovereign nations do so little but lobby for funds to fund...who knows?
Accountability is for the mere “other nations people”, or so the evidence strongly suggests.

Clearly I have throttled back my freely expressed opinions on this dysfunctional enabling sty that once was a lovely wee town rife with good folks.
In the spewing of facts over the years I might as well been Lucifer in Rome, loathed by ...so so many self righteous PC Crusaders, actual racists that suffer from a turtle island supremacy syndrome, hypocritical progressives (redundant yup..I know)

If there ever was a social construct it is race, it is a fulcrum for power nothing else.
Everyone has evil inside, with good adjacent.
98% of society knows right from wrong, unless enabled by a outside source or NGO.

This circus will only get more and bigger tents until we never try to reintroduce the term personal responsibility.
Oh yeah...the contact excuse is way outplayed, the needle cut through the vinyl, into the turntable, through the actual table, through the floor and into the basement.
Seems to me that tune has dug a big, big hole only the most able can crawl outta.

.....which of course brings it back to leadership, and just whom is the engineer on the victim express.
Maybe instead of the old classics such as “whitey ruined me”, “it was you not me” , “cash heals us” ...ask your alleged leaders from your sovereign nations how come?
Please remember though, that your alleged leaders are just politicians essentially..despite the facades of concern and reverence.

Many many OJW haters as a result of my freely expressed opinions, to that I ask...
Was I wrong?
The evidence strongly suggests that virtue will not solve our community’s many many issues.

One more question for the elites, what did the old days have for a solution of folks sitting around contributing nothing to those around them?
Removing the Walt Disney or CBC view of the old days before contact, how did folks get fed and clothed without contributing?
“Some men you just can’t reach.....” a pre gender quote from a classic B&W cool hand Luke.

Geeeeeezuz do we ever NEED our swamp drained, one can damn near run across the swamp jumping from one special interest gator to a political bloviating gator like a remora adjacent to a cultural supremacist gator....trying so hard too are the virtue gators whose jaws will snap at anyone not they to protect the other gators feeding into a fatness frenzy

All that traversing across our swamp...and you won’t ever get wet feet due to the concentration of reptilian opportunists wading in the water.
Somebody please get a excavator and knock down the levy, redefines stupid what has become of this place.

Up 29 Down 6

Chris on Aug 17, 2019 at 12:04 am

I was told because I don't sell drugs like my cousin who got shot and killed I'm not worthy to talk to any of them and that's about 100 people that live around there said the same s**t.

Up 51 Down 5

Chris on Aug 17, 2019 at 12:01 am

Lock them up u can't help these people unless u get them off crack, I should know I tried to date one of them and got diseased . Most have not interest in changing. They should all go thru anti drug therapy at the addictions centre.

Up 86 Down 7

Max Mack on Aug 16, 2019 at 10:05 pm

"The dangerous environment at the shelter creates an unsafe space for those trying to live in sobriety and use shelter facilities like showers and meal services . . ."
And that is exactly why Sally Anne operated a strict sobriety model.

Rather than admit error, Frost and Tapp are doubling down. This fiasco will run into millions more under their "leadership" and the problems will remain.

Up 25 Down 8

YoUrOpinion on Aug 16, 2019 at 9:59 pm

This isn’t about NGO’s......or maybe it is!?

The gardeners who are looking to weed the Shelter and surrounding areas should think about working outside the mundane hours of 9 to 5. The Salvation Army (really are they an army), did not know what to do with 6 million dollars in programming, Now YG takes over and discovers they aren’t better.

All it takes are professionals and folks that care who can walk the streets and give a hand, Why is it so hard!
Anyone who has worked in Social Services should recognize it’s about boots on the ground. Hey about the Government managers going to Chocolate Claim, Java Connection, Timmy’s and the other 2 dozen coffee shops and taking attendance at 10:40 am! It’s a very elite gathering of staff not at work.

One SW going outside at predetermined hour isn’t going to cut it. Ever met a SW who actually puts in a full day without spending 3 hours on social media?
Kerry has been through the system, she knows what it’s like to not have services after 5:00 pm.
First Nations, COW and YG should reallocate staffing so that there is imminent availability of services day and night.

Why is it that Justice, Health and the City are painting sidewalks and pretending that we, all of us are the culinary center of the Yukon, when others don’t have basic necessities?
I don’t hear other NGO’s weighing in.....all 246 of them. Time to reduce overhead and make “like mandated” NGO’s share infrastructure with a common Admin staff and portioned rental agreements.

Or you can do what Challenge is doing, make a plan and gather everyone up in a building with ummm Social Workers. Spread to thin eh Jill. Try eating at the YG building, without good lighting whilst all the YG staff go to the Deli. Oh and pretend to not have press watching you eat a salad,
It’s going to be an interesting winter with all those Social Workers Addiction Counsellors and Probation Officers collecting rent or penciling in these folks. It’s enjoyable that so many YG staff are landlords!

Up 63 Down 5

North_of_60 on Aug 16, 2019 at 8:25 pm

Appearing to treat addictions is a big business. If they ever came up with a treatment that cured addictions they would be out of a job. They're enablers whose highest priority is job security.

Up 73 Down 4

Sharon bill on Aug 16, 2019 at 8:00 pm

The shelter should be just a place for rest, to get a good hot meal not to be hung around and loitering all day. Drunk people should not be allowed in the building.

Up 72 Down 9

drum on Aug 16, 2019 at 6:26 pm

Many of the people hanging around the shelter all day for three meals (free) are getting welfare (how else can they afford alcohol and drugs) . They get a meal allowance!!!!! They do not work. Where else are they getting the money to sit around, have sex, harass people, drink in public, fight in the street, harassing people trying to go into businesses in the area or trying to go into their home!!!! We, the taxpayers of this City, should not be paying for this. Where are the FN Governments?

Up 71 Down 7

jc on Aug 16, 2019 at 5:49 pm

Nobody is helping them? For goodness sake, millions of dollars a year is being spent on that place to help these people. Peters is all talk, but has no real answers to the problem except to spend more money and resources. Why is she looking to the Federal and YG for funding all the time? Is she also tapping the budgets of the FN? Hardly think so. My solution is, if these people are just going to drink, drug and lay around all the time, build the shelter out of the city with a nice view. Have a large area where they can walk around and enjoy nature. They can even have a nature park. Take them fishing once in a while etc. Many of them may even need to learn some kind of simple trade where they can go to work and look after themselves. Keep out all alcohol and drugs and search visitors for contraband. It's no use giving them housing in the middle of the city where all their problems exist. If the governments are going to spend millions on them, then, make it count. Get them out of town. Creating an East Hastings is not the answer. Hey, it may even eventually drop the incarceration rate down over time. I believe it would. If these NGOs are going to help, do it right. Also, maybe in time it will lesson the burden on their hearts.

Up 47 Down 5

TheGreatUnwashed on Aug 16, 2019 at 5:45 pm

As a backpacking teen I once spent a chunk of one summer on the French Riviera. Too poor for an overnight room, we resorted to sleeping on the beaches. At some locations along the Côte d’Azur, at 5 am, the local gendarmes came along with the fire crews and turned pressure hoses on us. Worked great . I wonder ......

Up 77 Down 18

My Opinion on Aug 16, 2019 at 4:34 pm

More and more NGOs. More and more trained educated degree toting experts. Seems to me it is an industry. No care for the people just looking for core funding to expand their own interests.

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