Emergency vehicles respond to an incident at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter in May 2022. Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott is calling on the Yukon government to do more to immediately address serious issues around the shelter. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Emergency vehicles respond to an incident at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter in May 2022. Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott is calling on the Yukon government to do more to immediately address serious issues around the shelter. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Mayor urges Yukon government to immediately take on Whitehorse Emergency Shelter issues

RCMP announced drug arrests outside shelter on same day the News published on fear and frustration

City of Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott is urging the Yukon government to use its power, authority and bigger budget to immediately ramp up its response to ongoing issues and alleged criminal activity around the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.

Cabott spoke with the News by phone July 26 after hearing from Justice and Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee in response to the mayor’s letter. In her mid-June letter, the mayor echoes repeated complaints she has heard from businesses and residents about problematic happenings outside the shelter located downtown at 405 Alexander St.

On July 12, the News reported on the mayor’s letter in addition to a May 25 letter from businesses to Premier Ranj Pillai. That letter was carbon copied to other elected representatives as well as RCMP. It expressed mounting fear and frustration. Later on July 12, police put out a press release about arresting three people and seizing cocaine “after making observations” near the intersection of the shelter at 4th Avenue and Alexander Street over the second weekend in July.

RCMP data shows calls to the shelter consistently make up nine to 11 per cent of all downtown calls to police. That doesn’t include calls around and associated with the shelter. While the Yukon RCMP’s commanding officer Scott Sheppard said he is directing the police force to step up enforcement around the shelter, Cabott recognizes the RCMP isn’t the only answer.

Cabott said the city has attended community safety committee and working group meetings that McPhee referred to in the minister’s response to the mayor, but the city doesn’t have the tools and mandate to address the situation in the near, medium or long-term compared to the territorial government.

“We’re behind them, but they need to take the lead on this,” she said.

“The city is doing more than it ever has, actually, but if there’s something more that we can do, then, sure, we’ll step up […] even if it doesn’t fall within our municipal mandate.”

Cabott said the city has roles and responsibilities when it comes to bylaws, city planning, advocacy and zoning, but not operating, overseeing or providing services at the shelter, noting that the bylaw department has limited ability to control and enforce. She looks forward to working with the territorial government and community partners to solve the problems.

“This current situation isn’t acceptable,” she said. For example, Cabott referred to surveillance footage that a businessman with Alpine Bakery had sent to some representatives at the city and the Yukon government.

The bakery shared the video clips with the News. With a date and time stamp of shortly after midnight on July 16, the short clips appear to show people entering the property by hopping a fence and going thru a gate, smoking unknown substances and performing a sexual act.

Alpine Bakery was one of about two dozen businesses and organizations that contributed to a safety report — one of two recently released reports on the shelter done for the Yukon government. The other report was an evaluation of the shelter.

“It doesn’t seem to matter who’s operating the facility. It creates a lot of distress problems, safety issues, hygiene issues [and] vandalism issues for people that have businesses and homes around there,” Cabott said.

In 2017, the Salvation Army opened the shelter, then dubbed the “Centre of Hope,” supported by millions in funding from Yukon government. The government took over the shelter in 2019. On Oct. 1, 2022, the shelter again changed hands when Connective, formerly known as the John Howard Society, assumed operations and the Council of Yukon First Nations swept in as a subcontractor.

The Yukon government previously told the News it provides $5.4 million per year for operations and maintenance of the shelter.

But Cabott said she hasn’t seen any short-term solutions come from the Yukon government, which is what affected people in the area are looking for to get some relief.

“We’re happy to see that the minister seems to be taking our concerns seriously, so I absolutely do appreciate her responding back to us, but we do continue to hear from residents and nearby businesses that they’re getting tired of having to continually raise these issues and plead their case,” she said.

“This is something that needs some immediate attention as well as some long-term solutions.”

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com