Cathers promises funds for outreach van

The No Fixed Address Outreach Van that cruises Whitehorse streets two nights a week, offering help to homeless and marginalized people, is due for a…

The No Fixed Address Outreach Van that cruises Whitehorse streets two nights a week, offering help to homeless and marginalized people, is due for a raise.

And it’s about to get one.

The Yukon government has agreed to help a coalition of organizations fund the van for six nights each week.

The van “is a unique mobile service that provides essential health and social services to marginalized people living in Whitehorse,” said Marilyn Wolovick, executive director of the Yukon Family Services Association.

In 2005 the van provided food, counseling, nursing and needle exchange to more than 5,000 contacts, according to association figures.

“(The association) appreciates the support of the minister and we have valued his responsiveness to this critical need in the community,” Wolovick said in a release Monday, a week after the group’s annual general meeting where Health and Social Services minister Brad Cathers pledged the government’s support.

She estimated annual funding for the outreach van to operate six days a week would be about $200,000.

Previous estimates pegged the cost at $300 per day.

Wolovick may not have intended her announcement to be a political lever.

But it puts the government in a tricky position.

“We haven’t formally announced anything,” Cathers said Tuesday.

“The intent is to reach a funding arrangement with Yukon Family Services Association that will increase the number of nights that the outreach van is running,” he said.

“But the details of the contract are matters that are left in the hands of officials.

“Of course, there is ultimate approval from the YFSA board and from myself, as minister.

“Of course, cabinet approval is required for funding commitments.

“It’s better classified as a statement of strong intent and interest, rather than a formal announcement of how many dollars are going to be flowing on what date.”

The government does not directly fund the outreach van, but it does fund the family services association, Yukon College and Blood Ties Four Directions.

Those organizations combine forces as the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition to fund the outreach van, together with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, said Wolovick.

“We don’t know the details of what the government support is going to look like,” she said in an interview.

“There have been times when one of the partnering agencies has had funding for a co-ordinator, and currently we have a co-ordinator cobbled together one day a week, so it’s not really enough to do everything required to keep a van running.

“We’re very excited with the concept of the government contributing towards a co-ordinator position that will stabilize the running of the van.”

The outreach van currently operates between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Its proponents also hope to replace the vehicle itself, a 1976 retired ambulance that has been offering outreach service since 2002.