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Managed alcohol and relocated meal service called wins for downtown Whitehorse safety

Minister says draft budget contains millions to combat substance-use health emergency
Premier and Minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation Ranj Pillai, left, and Justice and Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee present the new downtown Whitehorse safety response action plan during a press conference on Dec. 21, 2023. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News File)

The Yukon government offered an update regarding its efforts to improve safety in downtown Whitehorse. Funding to continue combating the substance-use emergency is pledged with the coming territorial budget. The government is also explaining how ongoing work to decentralize meal service and provide managed alcohol and safe consumption services fit into the plan.

The government first unveiled its downtown safety plan in December 2023, with a focus on initiatives aimed at reducing the impact on safety that the emergency shelter at 405 Alexander Street has. The plan came on the heels of severe complaints levied at the state of things downtown by residents and businesses, including Alpine Bakery, which shut down in response to “ruinous conditions” on the block it shares with the shelter.

Specific complaints the government heard prior to the release of the strategy were: litter, including human feces and needles, harassment of employees, property damage and more.

“Budget 2024/25, which will be released relatively soon, will contain more than $15 million dollars in new funding to address the substance-use health emergency to make our communities, including downtown Whitehorse, safer and make it easier for women and children to escape gender-based violence without becoming homeless,” said territorial government Justice and Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee at the Feb. 21 discussion of how the safety plan is progressing.

McPhee told reporters that there had been significant input from the public when it came to prioritizing work. Things are also progressing at a variety of paces depending on the partners working on the plan with the government.

“One of the top priorities was to make sure that there was decentralized food services available, because we heard very loud and clear that some individuals weren’t even knowing where to access those food services, or felt unsafe at the ones that they understood were available, perhaps like 405 Alexander or other places like that,” McPhee said.

She added that the free meal services would be more clearly advertised going forward.

A managed alcohol program was one of the headline announcements of the downtown safety plan alongside the meal program decentralization. McPhee said they are aiming for an April opening with work ongoing at the chosen site for the managed alcohol program, the former St. Elias group home.

“It’ll be a residential managed alcohol program, with a focus on individuals who have serious alcohol addiction and are not able to often avail themselves of some of the other services. So residential controlled environment will be important for them,” the minister said.

Along with the managed alcohol program, McPhee praised extended hours at Whitehorse’s supervised consumption site, as well as the lifesaving efforts of staff there. She said that staff intervention at the consumption site had saved 40 lives since it opened. McPhee added that according to information from Connective, the organization that manages the emergency shelter as well as another supportive housing, lifesaving action had been taken about 50 times by its staff.

“Having individuals with the skills at those locations that can help to intervene is making a difference. It is saving individuals,” McPhee said.

“Do far too many people die from poisonous drugs in his territory? Absolutely. One is too many. But the activities and the expansion of services that are taking place at both 405 Alexander and supervised consumption site have made a real difference in the lives of many individuals and their families and friends.”

The minister also discussed environmental design choices that promote safety and crime prevention with strategically-placed lights and gathering places given as examples. She said an action being taken on this is working with organizations that have written up safety plans for other Canadian cities.

She added that there is a housing summit planned for Feb. 29, where more supportive and emergency housing will be discussed, and that meetings with individual downtown businesses were being targeted for March and April.

McPhee presented a positive outlook overall, praising the work government departments, the Council of Yukon First Nations and Connective have put towards downtown safety.

“In my opinion, this is a top priority. It is as evidenced by not only the action plan that’s been put in place, but the actions that have been taken to respond to what Yukon citizens have said is a serious concern of theirs.”

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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