The owner and workers of the Stop In Family Hotel are perplexed by the Yukon government ending funding for what they insist is a much-needed meal program that once helped some of the most vulnerable people in Whitehorse.
“It’s something that I wish would continue,” said hotel owner James Concepcion.
“They really needed the food.”
The hotel team has started collecting the signatures of more than 100 people who returned for a meal — only to find the program no longer exists.
“They’re really upset,” Concepcion said.
While the hotel faced difficulties dealing with some clients, Concepcion said the majority just needed a meal and a place to warm up. He is not impressed that the government chooses to spend public money on branding and beautification projects while “citizens are going hungry in the streets.”
Stephen Grant agrees with the hotel’s owner. Grant has previously relied on the hotel’s meal program. He said he has struggled with mental health issues and has been homeless in Calgary and Whitehorse.
Now he lives and works at the hotel, so he can pay for his food.
Grant said he would see some familiar faces on a frequent basis, while other people who used the program stopped by three or four times a month.
“This was kind of another way for people to eat,” he said.
“When it was cancelled, it definitely devastated a lot of people. A lot of people were just kind of confused. It’s not like it’s a very expensive program to keep running.”
Grant’s representative at the territorial level condemned the Liberal government’s choice to cut funding. Yukon NDP MLA for Whitehorse Centre Emily Tredger is demanding the government reverse its decision.
“This meal program needs to be reinstated immediately,” she said.
“And then, if the government wants to make changes in consultation with the people who actually use the program, then by all means do that, but they can’t just, you know, quietly under the radar shut down a program that people are depending on for meals.”
Tredger said there was public outcry when the government previously tried to shut down a meal program in 2020. She said the shelter provides evening meals to people who stay there, while those who use the food bank need a place to store food and cook it. The hotel’s meal program has no barriers.
“This is a program that provided evening meals to anyone who came to get them that were ready to eat,” she said.
“That’s going to leave a gap and people are going to go hungry.”
The Yukon NDP cited the government’s $55-million dollar surplus.
The Health minister was not available for an interview with the News. In a Jan. 26 email statement, department communications manager Thibaut Rondel said the provision of bagged meals in the evenings at the hotel ended Nov. 30, 2022, at the end of the Yukon government’s $100,000 contract with the hotel.
“This was an initiative designed as a temporary COVID-19 response and over time, the client uptake decreased from an average [of] about 40 per night through to around 20 per night,” reads the statement.
“There were further indications that there was overlap to the clients being served by this program to those who are already supported in other ways such as 405 Alexander St.”
The statement indicates the department is working on “closing the gap for low-income Yukoners,” which includes “assessing and responding to evolving community needs in the most effective manner possible.”
Rondel also provided the Yukon government’s response to the NDP’s Jan. 19 release on the recently cancelled meal program.
“The Yukon government started an evening meal program during the COVID-19 pandemic to promote social distancing. The Yukon government is now integrating COVID-19 services into existing programs, as outlined in Charting the Course: Living with and managing COVID-19,” reads the statement.
The statement indicates that prior to Oct. 1, 2022, and the handing over of the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter management and operations at 405 Alexander St. from the government to Connective Support Society, the Yukon government was offering breakfast and lunch drop-in options, while dinner was available to shelter clients and in emergency situations.
“We continue to support and have ongoing discussions about the needs and programs at 405 Alexander St. with Connective,” reads the statement.
The statement goes on to laud certain measures the government has taken, such as the firewood rebate program and ensuring that federal inflation benefits are not counted as income when determining eligibility for assistance.
“To help with the rising cost of living in the Yukon, the government has provided additional funds to people receiving social assistance, the senior income supplement and pioneer utility grants,” reads the statement.
“We understand the importance of long-term food security. As part of our response to Putting People First and Our Clean Future, we have committed $100,000 to support community food networks in the Yukon and are looking at ways to provide food aid throughout the territory.”
The statement indicates the government is currently reviewing social assistance rates.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org