A working group will be struck to address issues regarding the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, seen on May 3, 2022. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

A working group will be struck to address issues regarding the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, seen on May 3, 2022. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

Yukon minister takes Whitehorse shelter complaints ‘very seriously’

Working group on Whitehorse Emergency Shelter being struck with Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce

Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee is trying to assure some members of the business community that the Yukon government takes safety concerns surrounding the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter “very seriously.”

In a letter dated July 10, McPhee responded to the signatories of a May 25 letter emailed directly to Premier Ranj Pillai and carbon copied to other representatives in the territorial and municipal governments, RCMP and opposition party leaders as well as Connective, which operates the shelter, and the Council of Yukon First Nations, which is a subcontractor.

The letter outlines issues happening outside the shelter. Some claims include alleged criminal activity such as property damage and destruction and sexual, verbal and physical harassment.

READ MORE: Fear, frustration mounting over alleged criminal activity outside shelter

“Many people are struggling as homelessness and the substance use health emergency continue to affect Yukoners across the territory. While these issues are more visible in the downtown core, the scope of these challenges are much broader,” McPhee said in her letter.

“Thank you again for writing to share this feedback which helps us better understand the issues you raised. We will continue open communication with our community partners as we develop comprehensive solutions to help build a safer community for everyone.”

In McPhee’s letter to business representatives, she said the Yukon government is committed to working across departments and with the community to respond to the two reports — a safety report by House of Wolf & Associates and an evaluation by Vink Consulting — done for the government on the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.

READ MORE: Shelter benefits outweigh costs, reports say

In the letter, McPhee, who is also Justice minister, noted the community safety committee is a chance for community partners to discuss concerns across the territory to work together on programs and initiatives related to public safety. The committee is co-chaired by the Justice department and the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Announced in a July 2015 release issued under the Yukon Party government, the committee was created to improve communication and integrated responses to policing and safety issues. Specifically, former Justice Minister Brad Cathers said in the release, the committee’s mandate is to address the 33 recommendations in the Sharing Common Ground report, which came after the death of Raymond Silverfox in police custody and a review of Yukon’s police force.

The minister has also responded to Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott’s letter regarding issues around 405 Alexander St.

Cabott and McPhee were not available for interviews.

In a July 7 letter from McPhee to Cabott, McPhee indicates public safety concerns can be shared through the community safety committee, which the city sits on. The committee met on July 11.

In the letter, McPhee said she is looking forward to working with the city and hearing more about the next steps to address the recommendations. That includes steps that may be supported or led by the city, she wrote.

Additionally, the Yukon government will be creating a working group with the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, per the letter. McPhee is inviting the city to join the working group. In her letter, she indicated that she anticipates the city’s involvement in the upcoming working group.

No one from the chamber was available for interview. A written statement from Allison Camenzuli, Whitehorse Chambers of Commerce board chair, indicated the chamber is committed to working with community partners involved in operating the shelter for the “economic and social wellbeing of the businesses surrounding this facility, those that use the facility and the community as a whole.”

“As the voice of Whitehorse businesses, our primary focus is addressing the ongoing safety and security concerns brought forward by our membership. It is our belief that immediate action is needed and we look forward to exploring solutions to address these concerns including the ones brought forward in the recent reports.”

In a written statement attributed to Health and Social Services assistant deputy minister Jennifer Gehmair, Yukon government officials met with the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, RCMP and other unnamed community partners to discuss next steps acting on the recommendations. One outcome was a working group involving partners that are “invested and interested in being part of developing comprehensive solutions and working towards addressing community concerns.”

“We recognize and take seriously the ongoing needs and concerns that residents, business owners as well as 405 Alexander St. users and staff, are facing and are confident that a collective, coordinated approach is the best way to find well-rounded solutions,” reads the statement.

“The Yukon government will continue to communicate openly with our community partners as we work together to help build a safer community for everyone.”

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