Christine Tapp, director of social supports branch, talks to media at a press conference in Whitehorse on Feb. 7, about the government taking control of the Whitehorse emergency shelter. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

A new committee may keep tabs on the Whitehorse shelter

The news came out during a press briefing exactly one week after YG officially took control

The Yukon government is hoping to have an advisory committee established this month to help guide programs and services at the Whitehorse shelter, which the government now runs.

Such a committee would act as a conduit between the Department of Health and Social Services and the surrounding community, said Christine Tapp, director of the social supports branch of the department.

It would made up of “either individuals or organizations who have direct experience in a shelter or a supportive housing context, who can really advise us on some of those sticky issues that we might face,” she said during a press briefing on Feb. 7.

Feedback would also come from those behind the Safe at Home program, including First Nations, she said.

On Jan. 31, the Yukon government took control of the building, formerly called the Centre of Hope, from the Salvation Army. Officials at the time said certain expectations of care were not being met by the Christian organization.

Tapp said there has been an increase in people accessing the shelter as well as more female clients.

People are also staying for longer periods of time, she said.

“It’s definitely a lot busier, and we’re trying to make best use of all of the space in the building.”

Shelter intake beds are open 24 hours, said Tapp. A drop-in space is also available.

An overflow space has been created, with more capacity for people to bed down. This area has been used “since day one,” she said.

At this point there’s no concern that space could run out, she said.

“Everybody who has presented and requested a shelter bed we have been able to meet their needs.”

A day before the Yukon government took over the building, the News published a story in which some clients expressed they hadn’t been informed of changes connected to the transition.

Tapp said since mid-January “a staff presence” was at the facility leading discussions with clients and getting input from them.

Next week, she added, there will be an open meeting for clients, where they can provide further feedback.

“(We want to know) what’s working, what’s not working, what would you like to see in the programs and services going forward,” Tapp said.

She described the shelter as low-barrier.

“It means individuals who are intoxicated or may present some difficult behaviours would definitely be welcome at the facility,” Tapp said, noting there are staff on-hand who can work with these people and deescalate conflict.

There are roughly 40 employees at the shelter in total, including full-timers, part-timers and those who are on-call. Some staff were poached from the Salvation Army on a temporary basis. It’s unclear how many, exactly.

A social worker will work from the facility.

There are no security personnel at the building.

Asked how the shelter will strike a balance between keeping everyone safe while maintaining an open door policy, Tapp said, “We would say there’s certain behaviours, if someone’s safety is being compromised or challenged, we would not welcome behaviour to the building, though (the) individual is always welcome.

“Ultimately, we want to have a safe space for everybody.”

Currently, clients cannot consume alcohol on-site, but during the coming weeks, an alcohol holding policy could be implemented, she said.

“We will be getting lockers in the coming weeks, where individuals can actually store their alcohol” while accessing services, Tapp said.

Eventually, harm reduction programming will be “layered in.”

Another development involves finding permanent housing for those who currently reside in the 20 transitional housing units upstairs.

“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,” Tapp said.

Previously, under the control of the Salvation Army, these units were available to clients for up to one year, she said.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated that transitional housing units could be made permanent.

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