Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
In a move the territory said could have budget implications going forward, what was once the Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope will now see a scale-up after YG took over a week ago.
While that is currently and will continue to take place in the coming months, there will be an emphasis on the next half-year or so.
“Right now, we’re looking at a six-month window for YG operations, and then we’ll be having conversations with our partners about what the longer-term future looks like,” Christine Tapp told a media briefing Thursday afternoon.
The director of the social supports branch, Tapp was asked exactly how temporary the placements for old army staff were after YG took over operations midday on Jan. 31.
While exact figures were not yet available, Tapp said there were around 40 workers in total at the site, inclusive of those who are full-time, part-time and casual or on- call.
As the Star reported last week, the army employed about 23 regular staff (full- or part-time) and a number of other casuals.
“It’s difficult to compare,” Tapp said Thursday when asked how many from the army will still be working at the site.
“Not everybody necessarily applied or wanted to work under YG. I can say we do have some familiar faces on all shifts ... and also have a number of new faces.
“We will soon be having a social worker that will be based out of the facility ... eventually, we’ll be doing some harm reduction programming.”
While exact figures over the last week were not available, she explained that demand has picked up in particular for women accessing the site.
“It’s definitely a lot busier – we’re trying to make best use of all the space in the building.”
The number of people using the shelter, and how long they’re staying, is growing – leading the government to extend intake for shelter beds to 24 hours.
Meanwhile, HSS spokesperson Pat Living said last week that the shelter was to operate as a “low barrier” one based on harm reduction principles, which Tapp echoed Thursday.
“It means individuals who are intoxicated or may present with some difficult behaviours, would definitely be welcome at the facility.”
The army has publicly acknowledged that could be a change, given the group’s abstinence approach.
“Ultimately, we want to have a safe space for everybody,” Tapp said.
“We would say there’s certain behaviours, if somebody’s safety is being compromised or challenged, we would not welcome that behaviour to the building – though individuals are always welcome.”
It’s a part of the territory’s “ban the behaviour but not the person” approach.
Currently, clients are not allowed to drink at the site, but lockers are to be installed soon so they can store alcohol while they use the facility, she added.
“There is definitely, if we are expanding capacity, there will potentially be budget implications,” Tapp acknowledged.
She added that so far, the progress has been good.
“Everybody who has presented and requested a shelter bed, we have been able to meet their needs,” Tapp said when asked if YG was concerned there may be a lack of space.
“We’re taking a slightly different approach to how we use resources; over the coming months, we’ll have a better sense of what the ongoing budget will look like.”
Asked if there were any requests from the army in the past or concerns about funding not being adequate, Tapp said there had been conversations with the group on topics like staffing model.
“I think right now we’re taking a looking forward approach to what the future services and programs will look like,” she said.
Under YG’s 31-month contract with the army, the group received $100,000 each month ($1.2 million per year) to operate and maintain the site.
Tapp maintained the focus is on the future of the centre now that it’s under YG, adding, “we’re not looking at doing a financial audit at this time,” to review how the army spent the funds.
“Our shelter support workers would be appropriately trained to be able to deescalate conflict; really it’s relational.
“Quite often, a security guard approach is not necessarily ideal for deescalating conflict.”
A job ad for a shelter support worker, meanwhile, which has a salary of between $30.49 and $35.10 hourly, requires the applicant to “provide crisis management as related to immediate needs.”
Those include housing, financial, mental health and risk to self-harm, and relies on past demonstrated experience in things like managing conflict, defusing crises and responding to emergency situations.
While agreeing that a shelter support worker’s duties can be difficult at times, she added the eventual goal is to offer specific training as staff settle into the site.
“We will also be over the coming weeks carving out a specific time for them to do dedicated training, but right now a lot of it has been side by side and a lot of coaching.”
Now YG workers, some of the employees at the shelter are members of the Yukon Employees’ Union while others are not.
“It’s a bit of a mix, because right now we’re looking at approximately a six-month window,” she said, noting there are not different pay rates.
As of right now, the Fourth Avenue and Alexander Street site is billed under the name Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, with a new name to be chosen after YG consults with community partners – something that could be months away.
“We would like to have some clarity on what our future direction would be, before we go forward with the naming process,” Tapp said.
Another one of the differences will be seen in the transitional housing units at the site: the old policy allowed people to stay up to a year, but YG could change that.
“Right now, we are looking to provide permanent housing to all of the individuals who are currently in the transitional housing units and we’re actively helping them secure permanent housing in the community, which is consistent in the goal of transitional housing.
“A number of them are ready to move on to something more stable and permanent in the community, and we’re helping them with that.”
Asked if it was possible that a different group or NGO could take over the operations come the end of that six-month period, Tapp did note rule out either way.
“I’m not sure at this point; I think ultimately, we’d have conversations with our partners to determine interests in what a different model may look like.”
The site will continue to offer three meals a day, seven days a week, with a drop-in space and its 20 transitional housing units.
Public access to laundry and showers will also stay intact through the drop-in service, and shelter intake for beds will now be 24 hours whereas before there was a cutoff time.
Those looking for some relief during colder temperatures will be welcomed into the space and can leave or stay as long as they choose.
The centre opened in October 2017, thanks to the army pitching in $1.1 million and YG adding $13.4 million to get the site off the ground.
As for the more immediate future, Tapp added there has been a staff presence at the site since mid-January.
There will be “open meetings” held next week “for centre patrons to get their feedback” on what they want to see from the facility.
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