Highways trump homeless

Homeless youth in Whitehorse are bunking in a social housing unit on Jeckell Street, after recently being displaced from the territory's Sarah Steele building as it undergoes renovations.

Homeless youth in Whitehorse are bunking in a social housing unit on Jeckell Street, after recently being displaced from the territory’s Sarah Steele building as it undergoes renovations.

For the NDP’s Steve Cardiff, the case illustrates much of what’s wrong with the territory’s Yukon Party government.

“You can spend millions and millions of dollars and borrow money to build hospitals and hydro facilities, and then you turn your back on the most precious resource we’ve got … our youth,” Cardiff told the legislature September 23.

“I’m tired – I’m damn tired of having to bang my head with the government on this issue.”

Economic Development Minister Jim Kenyon recently boasted the government is spending $37 million over several years to upgrade the Robert Campbell Highway.

The work is partly in preparation for the trucks that, as of Friday, will be hauling ore from Yukon Zinc’s Wolverine mine to port at Stewart, BC.

“It’s not that we don’t support exploration and mining,” said Cardiff. “But that money is a direct subsidy.”

Meanwhile, the territory refuses to fund a permanent youth shelter in Whitehorse, even though a facility already exists, and happens to stand one door down from the temporary digs currently used by youth.

Angel’s Nest was purchased two years ago by the Youth of Today Society in the hope of converting the old hostel into a permanent youth shelter. But the territory has resisted funding the operation, citing problems with the organization’s business plan.

If the territory was determined to open the shelter, it would help the organization overcome any details that have been cited as impediments to government funding, Cardiff said in an interview. “But I haven’t seen that happening,” he said. “The government refuses to work with them.

“The beds are there. They’re ready to go. But they don’t have the funding to staff it.”

Cardiff wasn’t thrilled with the status quo, in which up to four homeless youth were placed in the Sarah Steele building, near addicted adults in the territory’s detox program.

But having homeless youth taking up social housing means there’s less space available for single mothers and others lined up for affordable housing, said Cardiff. “That’s bad planning,” he told the legislature.

And, to add insult to injury, when the territory relocated the temporary youth shelter, nobody bothered to inform frontline groups that support at-risk youth, such as the Boys and Girls Club, Bringing Youth Towards Equality and Many Rivers Counselling, said Cardiff.

“They weren’t even informed,” said Cardiff. “That’s not good governance. That’s getting your priorities wrong.”

The current shelter gives off a cold impression. A sign on its door explains that would-be clients must call a number and be screened before entry. “Staff will not open this door for any reason,” it states.

Cardiff twice asked Glenn Hart, minister for Health and Social Services, to tour the youth shelter with him. Twice Hart declined the offer.

The Sarah Steele building’s renovations are expected to be complete by late October.

Contact John Thompson at