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Long awaited youth shelter opens

A new emergency youth shelter opened in Whitehorse yesterday. The Yukon government-funded service is being run by the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre.

A new emergency youth shelter opened in Whitehorse yesterday.

The Yukon government-funded service is being run by the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre.

When the doors opened Thursday afternoon, there were already youth waiting to get in.

“I’m excited to get kids in there,” said Delilah Pillai, executive director of the friendship centre, only minutes before the opening. “I’m excited just to walk them into a room and go, ‘This is it, here you go. Unpack, or settle in, whatever you’ve got to do.’”

Since 2008 there have been emergency beds available for youth at the detox centre in the Sarah Steele Building.

But advocates complained that the setting was not appropriate for youth, and critics complained that the service was underused and overfunded.

The new shelter has six beds, with a capacity to add more if there is demand, said Pillai.

The location is not being released for security reasons.

Youths ages 17-24 are eligible to use the shelter.

The service works the same way as previously. Youth in an emergency situation can call an outreach worker at 335-1216 and be picked up and transported to the shelter.

What is different is what happens the next morning.

While the shelter operates around the clock, youth are required to leave during business hours Monday to Friday.

In the mornings they will be transported back to Skookum Jim, where they will meet with a youth co-ordinator and work on a plan towards independence.

“It’s not just a shelter,” said Pillai. “It’s working with youth, compiling the resources needed to address whatever issue they may be having.”

The youth will be encouraged to access all the regular programming at the friendship centre, including the employment centre, tutoring, recreation programs and more.

The new shelter has been a long time coming.

A 133-page implementation plan, More Than A Roof: Call to Action for a Youth Emergency Shelter/Safe Home, identified the need back in 2007.

The Sarah Steele shelter offered youth a safe bed, but Pillai expects the new service will give much more, she said.

“If it was thrown together at the last minute, then I don’t think that it would be as successful as we’re expecting it to be.”

The new space was designed to not only be safe, but also cozy and comfortable.

“Depending on the home life that they’ve come from, this might be the best example for us to set an example of what their home life can be,” said Pillai.

The service will address the individual needs of each youth who walks through the door.

“Not every kid that uses the shelter is in need of long-term residence,” said Pillai. “Sometimes it’s just one day. Sometimes it’s just ‘Take a break, leave a situation because it’s bad right now.’”

Pillai expects that the shelter will serve youth who fell through the cracks with what was available before, she said.

“I’m already speaking with people that are referring youth to us and they are tickled pink.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at