After balking at a request to support the proposed Angel’s Nest youth shelter, the Yukon government has turned around and funneled more money to Skookum Jim Friendship Centre.
The centre’s $191,000 youth shelter and support program, set to expire at the end of August, has been extended until March 2009.
“The government is extending this program to enable us to get a clear picture of what is happening in the Yukon with regards to youth homelessness,” said Social Services Minister Glenn Hart in a release.
But last year’s federally funded, 133-page implementation plan, More Than A Roof: Call to Action for a Youth Emergency Shelter/Safe Home, created by Yukon youth service providers, already gives a clear picture of what is happening in the Yukon with regards to youth homelessness.
“I’ve spent time on the streets, I know what it’s like to freeze, I’m staying with the guy I’m sleeping with,” said one 17-year-old female in the report.
“The Whitehorse community needs an emergency youth shelter/safe home,” concludes the report. “Ninety-six per cent of survey respondents identified this need during the project, and past studies support this finding.”
Youth are trading sex for shelter, said Youth of Today Society executive director Victoria Durrant, in a past interview with the News.
“Youth need: a safe place to stay, ranging from one night up to six months; emotional support from trained staff who are strong role models; understanding and respect for their culture and life experience (First Nation and non-First Nation); understanding and respect for where they are in their personal journey from childhood to adulthood; help with sorting out next steps through client-centered action planning,” states the report.
The Angel’s Nest project meets these needs, according to Durrant.
With a $50,000 down payment on the Hide on Jeckell hostel, Youth of Today is set to convert the 22-bed lodging into supported independent living for youth ages 18 to 24.
The society has received a forgivable loan from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation to purchase the hostel for conversion.
However, that loan is dependent upon a financial commitment from the Yukon government to cover operating expenses for the first three years of the shelter — a total cost of $1.2 million.
Youth poverty workers and First Nation representatives met with Hart in early August to lobby government funding, presenting him with a 1,009-signature petition as well as 18 letters of official support.
Without funding, the society will lose its chance at the hostel and its $50,000 by October 1st.
Whitehorse is one of the only major urban centres in Canada without a comprehensive youth shelter.
On August 27th, Durrant received a reply.
Before any commitment, the government needs “a fully developed business plan,” wrote deputy minister Stuart Whitley.
However, when Skookum received its first $191,000 in March, a business plan was “not available,” the News was told.
Originally set to operate for only three months, the money was to pay four employees, who carried cellphones.
It worked out to roughly $15,000 per employee, a month.
However, at the end of three months there was money left over, which allowed the project to be extended until August.
Whitley also asked Durrant for “more explicit data that substantiates the need for the programs/services for which you are requesting funding, and details that would describe who would use the service … a gap analysis that identifies gaps in existing services, including the service provided by Skookum Jim Friendship Centre.”
Skookum Jim’s pilot project offers youth ages 17 through 20 two emergency beds at Alcohol and Drug Services.
It’s a phone-in service that also makes referrals for youth who don’t fit the bill.
By April, there had been 32 requests for service and 15 referrals.
Skookum’s pilot is an interim solution, said Whitehorse Youth Coalition co-chair Dave Prodan, in a past interview with the News.
Angel’s Nest is a more long-term solution, he added.
It doesn’t have to be one or the other, said Bringing Youth Toward Equality’s executive director Rachel Parks, also in a previous interview.
Skookum is running an emergency youth shelter, while Youth of Today is hoping to set up supportive independent living, said Parks.
Calls to Hart, Whitley and Skookum Jim’s executive director Michelle Kolla were not returned.
The government did not say how much money it has given to Skookum to continue the pilot project.