The owners of the Chilkoot Trail Inn are hoping to come up with a deal to secure the inn’s future with a local non-government organization.
In a letter dated March 3 and addressed to Premier Sandy Silver that was provided to reporters by the Yukon Party, owners Jagdeep Gill, Gurmeet Gill and Narinder Gill say that once repairs to the building are complete, they would like to enter into an agreement with one of the local non-government organizations to manage the building for a fee.
“This would result in a more effective, safer and controlled environment for the tenants and help ensure inevitable property damage is minimized,” reads the letter.
“The owners have a desire to continue to be part of the solution for housing vulnerable clients but they recognize that as hotel staff they do not have the necessary skills required to make the [Chilkoot Trail Inn] a secure housing option.”
The letter specifically requests funding for repairs under the premise that the repaired inn can return to being used as “affordable housing for clients who otherwise are difficult to house.”
The owners say given the housing crisis in Whitehorse, losing the inn as a shelter option is a “detriment to our most vulnerable.”
In the letter, the inn has 39 rooms and provides shelter for up to 50 clients. Some of those rooms are set up with kitchenettes and bathrooms, including some with shared bathroom facilities.
“In spite of significant investments by the owners for maintenance and safety and due to many social factors, it had become extremely difficult to manage access to the building and maintain an accurate registry of the occupants,” reads the letter.
“Thanks to the efforts of the clients’ supporting agencies and the Safe At Home Society’s collaborating [non-government organizations], the building was vacated and the clients temporarily relocated to alternate locations.”
People living in the inn were ordered to vacate by Feb. 11 after the city’s fire department issued a closure order on Jan. 11 due to numerous building code safety violations.
The most recent fire on Oct. 18, 2021, sent a woman to hospital and left smoke and water damage to the second-floor unit. In January Whitehorse fire Chief Jason Everitt said in an email that in the past 12 years the city has responded to 21 events, including four separate fires, at the inn.
The letter indicates the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation both stated the owners’ funding request does not fit within their standard programming.
“We hope that by bringing this to your attention you can help us determine our next steps,” the letter reads.
During question period on April 12, Yukon Party MLA Yvonne Clarke asked if the government is considering giving money to allow the building to continue to operate and if the government would facilitate a partnership with a local non-government organization.
When asked by reporters after question period, Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon suggested looking at the option used to keep the Coast High Country Inn alive.
In that case, the inn was bought by Safe At Home Society and converted into a 55-unit supportive housing development, after the previous Whitehorse city council voted to apply for the federal funding that aims to address urgent housing needs through rapid construction of affordable housing.
“I think it’s understandable that a private hotel owner would look at the model used elsewhere in this city, and ask if they could be a part of that as well,” Dixon said.
Ranj Pillai, who is the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, told reporters his team reached out with information for the Chilkoot Trail Inn owners.
“The difference in this particular case, as compared to other work that we’re doing, is that it’s a hotel, and that’s how it’s listed and that’s how it’s run, and so therefore, the funding programs that we have are not applicable to this,” he said.
Pillai said a change in ownership, much like what happened with the Coast High Country Inn, could lead to a different conversation.
NDP Leader Kate White told reporters at the legislative building the letter was a matter of opinion about putting people up at an inn that does not have a “positive history.”
“I think an example of the Chilkoot is a systemic issue of governments housing people in hotels,” said White, who suggested moving away from housing people in privately run hotels.
“I think as it stands, I don’t see a future where an individual owns it, government pays to fix it,” White said. “Government pays to put people in it, government pays to support [a non-government organization] to manage it for a private individual. I don’t see that as a future.”
The executive director of Safe At Home Society said hotels and motels can play a role in the housing continuum when it comes to providing emergency support, and downtown locations are ideal since most services and supports for people in need are located in the city centre.
However, Kate Mechan said, Safe At Home Society is not interested in entering into any sort of agreement to operate through a private business.
“We have no interest in a partnership where a private business charges a fee for a non-profit organization to operate. What we’re invested in is creating permanent supportive housing units.”
— With files from Haley Ritchie and Stephanie Waddell
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com