Aftercare needed in Haines Junction

Kim Boss and Muskrat are alcoholics. On a Sunday afternoon in April, the two are sitting at Boss's kitchen table in the sparsely furnished Haines Junction apartment that social assistance pays for. Muskrat is chain-smoking and Kim is drinking coffee.


Kim Boss and Muskrat are alcoholics.

On a Sunday afternoon in April, the two are sitting at Boss’s kitchen table in the sparsely furnished Haines Junction apartment that social assistance pays for. Muskrat is chain-smoking and Kim is drinking coffee. Both are shaky from the night before.

Kim has lived in the apartment building for a year. She says it’s a daily struggle for her to deal with life in the building.

“It’s like a slum,” she says. “It’s like it’s condemned.”

The building has no security, not even locks on the doors. There are holes in the walls, and junk piles up outside on what passes for a lawn. Haines Junction’s only apartment building is notorious for parties and heavy drinking.

Boss says the cops stop by more regularly than some of the tenants, it seems. There are fights and frequent chaos. She says it’s not uncommon for people to climb the balconies from outside trying to get in looking for a party or to score some booze. It’s not exactly a supportive atmosphere for someone trying to get clean.

Boss also suffers from chronic back and joint pain, which makes it difficult to walk and excruciating to climb the two sets of stairs to her apartment.

She’s allergic to pain medication, so she drinks to take away the pain. She drinks when there are parties happening. She drinks every day.

Boss has tried to stop. Her latest attempt was this February, when she completed the 28-day treatment program in Whitehorse. She signed herself up voluntarily.

“It was great,” she says, “we spent time on the land. At circle (group support meetings) we all had so much that we were trying to forget. I have a lot to heal from.”

She proudly shows off photos from her time in treatment, on the land with a group of other addicts practising traditional bush skills and reconnecting with her heritage.

But as soon as she got out, it started over again.

“When we got back home, people were saying, ‘We got out! Let’s party!’ and they went to drink again,” she says.

With nowhere else to live, Boss moved back into the apartment building, back into an alcohol-laced environment where temptation and weakness are just behind her neighbours’ doors.

“When my son dropped me off here the day after treatment, I remember he said, ‘Mom, you’re not serious. This place?’ But what else was I supposed to do?”

As she speaks, Muskrat sits quietly at the table, continuing to smoke but hardly speaking. He hasn’t tried treatment – figures it’s not worth the effort.

There’s a knock at the door. Before Boss can invite her caller in, three men clamour in, laughing. One says his name is Steve (not his real name). The others decline to give their names. A straggler enters the apartment but doesn’t say a word, walking through the kitchen and making a bee-line for the balcony where he spends five minutes throwing up over the railing.

The group exchanges pleasantries, and Steve starts talking about his own struggles.

Like most Yukon communities, Haines Junction has virtually no aftercare and little support for alcoholics fresh from treatment. Those, like Steve, who try treatment come to Whitehorse for a month, sober up, and go right back to their old environment again.

“I sobered up for a few weeks, but now I’m drinking again, pretty heavily,” Steve says.

Before Boss lived in the apartment building, she was living at the Glacier View Inn, but she said the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations government moved her to the apartment building because the rent is cheaper. Things weren’t much better at the Glacier View, but at least she wasn’t surrounded by parties and living just down the street from the liquor store.

Boss says she’s been homeless over the years as well, couch surfing when she has nowhere else to go. Right now, she says there are about 10 homeless people in Haines Junction, many of them alcoholics. The others nod in agreement.

Cheryle Patterson has seen how damaging the move was for Boss. Patterson has seen the worst of Haines Junction’s addictions problems, and she decided to do something about it.

A year ago she started Reawakening Our Wellness Spirit (ROWS), a support group for alcoholics that focuses first on building participants’ self-esteem before taking away the bottle.

“We can’t force anyone to quit. My big thing first was building their self-esteem. I encouraged them to eat while they drink. It scares people. When people found out I was allowing them to bring their drinks with them with a to-go mug, it scared people,” she says.

For a while, the group held weekly pot lucks and would send participants home with single-serving meals wrapped up from the leftovers. At its peak, the group drew between 10 and 30 participants every week, but Patterson started running into problems. The First Nation said it couldn’t support a group that allows alcohol to be served. Patterson says she was also told she doesn’t have the proper training to run such an organization, so she enrolled in the Nechi Training, Research and Health Promotions Institute in Edmonton, which offers specialized training to addictions counselors who work in First Nations communities. But being the only one keeping the group together is a heavy load to bear.

“They’ve just lost faith in themselves. Whenever I go away, they kind of fall apart,” she says.

In an emailed statement, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Chief James Allen said his government began a reorganization of its community wellness programs last fall, and he hopes to have three new transitional housing units ready to use by the end of June. Some of that transitional housing will support “a few citizens dealing with both health and addictions issues,” the email said.

Allen wouldn’t comment on ROWS or the specifics of Boss’s case.

In her apartment, the men keep asking if Boss can spare any change. She walks over to the balcony door and gazes out the window for a few moments. When she turns around all five men are gone.

“They scored,” she says, shrugging.

Contact Jesse Winter at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Most Read