Alpine Bakery has announced it will temporarily close its doors on Oct. 7.
The closure will be in place “until the framework conditions are significantly changed by the government in the coming months.”
The bakery, which is run by couple Walter and Silvia Streit, has been running for more than 30 years.
In an email to Premier Ranj Pillai, Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott, and members of the business community, the Streits said they are forced to close because of the “ruinous conditions created for our business and our health.”
The Whitehorse Emergency Shelter was the main reason identified in the letter for the closure. The bakery is located a few meters away from the shelter, which has been a point of concern for residents and businesses in downtown Whitehorse. Noise, security threats and alleged criminal activity have been frequently reported to authorities by residents who live nearby or operate businesses around the vicinity. Letters have been written to authorities but no action has been taken, the Streits said.
The couple, who bought the bakery more than eight years ago, said that in the last six years since the shelter opened, the government has been unable to find a solution to the challenges they face, including protecting their customers and nearby residents from the unhealthy living conditions around the shelter.
“By the way, we got absolutely no compensation for the cost of repairs and daily cleaning, nor for lost revenue,” the couple said in their letter. “Our recent attempts to transfer the business to some current employees of the bakery have failed. These individuals feel that the current situation involving the shelter and Yukon government’s inactions pose too great a risk to the future success of the business.”
Kate Mechan is the executive director of Safe at Home Society, a community-based organization working to end and prevent homelessness. Mechan said when dialogues and debates like this open up, people get blamed and fingers are pointed.
“I can feel that the business community doesn’t feel heard and the business community is responding because they need to feel safe, keep their employees safe and their business,” she said. “So, it’s a very logical response in some ways.”
She said the shelter plays a crucial role in a continuum of crisis response to people, and the way out of homelessness is housing and support.
However, Mechan told the News she is opposed to moving the shelter because it displaces the problem and does not address the root causes.
“Moving it to other places may cause transportation barriers, and medical resources and support networks are in the downtown core,” she said. “We need to be sure that we are not creating other barriers for people in other neighbourhoods by transplanting the shelter somewhere else, away from safe consumption sites, or where they can access social services or cultural support.”
She said pointing fingers solely at the government doesn’t help.
“We all have a role to play and I hope we have the opportunity as the entire community – business community, individuals who are experiencing homelessness, service providers, decision-makers at all levels of government, First Nations government, municipalities, territorial government, to sit and be thoughtful about the solution to this issue.
“We exist in such a reactive space and now is the time to take a deep breath, sit back and actually get more coordinated about the solution. That’s how we reduce discrimination and anger and come to a solution that everyone can buy into.”
Connective, which runs the shelter, said in an email to the News that while it has been operating the shelter for 11 months now, officials are aware that the issues have been going on for many years and understand the frustration of local businesses and residents.
Premier Ranj Pillai proposed a meeting with the Streits to discuss the challenges they face and how they can be supported.
“Our discussion will be on what is necessary to change and what is the approach to that,” Walter told the News during a phone chat. “The truth is that we have a shelter which is in the wrong place. Things have to change because you can’t continue running a shelter in that place under the same conditions.”
Pillai said in an email to the couple that the temporary closure of the bakery “will be a tremendous loss to your customers, and to the community that has relied on your business for bread, pastries, and coffee for the past several years.” He added the government recognizes and takes seriously the ongoing needs and concerns that residents, business owners, and users and staff of the shelter are facing.
Pillai noted that the situation around the shelter is complex.
Promises without actions
The Streits and other business owners around the shelter said they have received assurances from the government but nothing has changed.
Glenys Baltimore used to run the Chocolate Claim cafe on Strickland Street in downtown Whitehorse. The public-facing cafe is closed, but Baltimore still operates a bakery business on the street.
“We have heard a series of promises from bureaucrats and politicians, all of which have added up to absolutely no action in this regard. In fact we have been continuously gaslit,” Baltimore said in an email thread that circulated between business owners and Pillai. The email was forwarded to the News. Baltimore confirmed its details to the News over the phone.
She said business owners are not opposed to providing support for those who are vulnerable, but are requesting that behaviour outside the shelter be managed as it would be in any other neighbourhood.
She added that a form of community policing, which patrols a radius of several blocks around the shelter and outdoor public washrooms, would go a long way to mitigating the problem.
“What exactly will it take for this government to recognize that there is a problem and to take action on it? That the situation has been allowed to go on this long is beyond comprehension,” she said.
In a statement, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce (WCC) said the closure could have been prevented and that swift action is needed.
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