Members of the Yukon’s political opposition parties and legal community say they’re concerned about the upcoming closure of the Salvation Army’s Adult Resource Centre (ARC), the only “halfway house” for men in the territory.
In separate interviews Feb. 6, Yukon Party House Leader Scott Kent and Yukon NDP MLA and justice critic Liz Hanson said the news that the ARC would be permanently closing in the spring caught them by surprise.
The News first reported on Feb. 5 that the Salvation Army is tentatively planning on shuttering the 18-bed facility on March 31, with discussions underway to possibly extend the date to the end of April.
The decision, a spokesperson told the News, was triggered by the Yukon government’s expansion and safety improvement plans for a stretch of the Alaska Highway running from the Carcross cut-off to the North Klondike Highway, including in the Hillcrest area.
Department of Justice spokesperson Fiona Azizaj previously said in an email that the Salvation Army had informed the Yukon government of its plan to shutter the ARC in late December.
Kent said that based on previous public meetings and documents, he was under the impression that construction on the Hillcrest portion of the plan would not begin for another two years, and it was “disappointing” to learn that the ARC would be closing this spring.
He said it was concerning that the Yukon government has not shared what plans it has to ensure services and programming are continued after the ARC’s closure.
“That’s a bit of a trend with this government where they make decisions without plans,” Kent said. “I mean, you just have to look at the closing of central stores or the downsizing of Queen’s Printer or what happened to the Centre of Hope or even more recently the housing first (project) … These are all questions that we’ll be exploring when the house comes back in a month.”
Hanson had similar criticisms, decrying what she said she thought reflected a lack of internal coordination on key files.
“It’s a flummoxing kind of situation, quite frankly … I would think (they would plan for) something as significant as this, given all the shit that they’ve gone through with the Salvation Army and the Centre of Hope and God knows what’s going on with the housing first place over on Fifth and Wood,” Hanson said.
“I mean, it’s time that they actually demonstrate they know how to coordinate and communicate in between departments. And ministers are ultimately accountable, but they have senior officials who are paid a heck of a lot of money to do this work.”
In a written statement provided by operations manager Shannon Rhames on Feb. 7, the Yukon Legal Services Society, also known as Legal Aid, said the closure of the ARC “is of great concern to us as we rely on it to house some of our most vulnerable clients, many of whom suffer from homelessness, poverty, trauma, victimization, and disabilities such as FASD.”
“While we have had long standing concerns about the quality of the facility, we recognize the fact that it provided beds for men in need of rehabilitation,” the statement says. “It also provided a safe, secure housing option which addressed important public safety concerns. Already we have a historical and current problem with the gross overrepresentation of Indigenous Yukoners at the jail and this closure will further exacerbate the problem, unless more alternative housing is provided.”
It added that it was encouraged by the Yukon government’s efforts with the community wellness court — a therapeutic court that help create long-term wellness plans for people with addictions, mental health issues or intellectual disabilities who have been charged, generally, with non-violent crimes — and is “(looking) forward to hearing more about their plans for more housing alternatives, for both women and men in need.”
Vancouver-based prison and criminal defence lawyer Bibhas Vaze, who also practices in the Yukon, said in an interview Feb. 6 that the lack of information on what resources will be available after the ARC’s closure was troubling.
Although not a large facility — it has a capacity of 18 beds — and not always full, the ARC is nonetheless the only halfway house Vaze said he was aware of in the Yukon, and therefore critical to the release plans for convicted or accused men.
“In my view, (the Department of Justice) have a responsibility to ensure that offenders have a chance to reintegrate into society and also have a chance to have their liberty interests met and if they’re not putting any kind of contingency plan in place … then they’re really doing potential harm to the prisoners,” he said.
“I do want to emphasize … we are supposed to be looking towards a community-integration and rehabilitative model in corrections these days and when you start doing things like closing halfway houses, you really are not meeting those stated goals because it does take away from the potential for their reintegration and rehabilitation.”
The Department of Justice ignored a request for an interview on what options it’s looking at to ensure a continuity in services and programming once the ARC closes. Instead, Azizaj provided a two-sentence statement Feb. 6 saying the department “recognize(s) this program is extremely important.”
“We are working diligently on this file and will share more information when details are finalized,” the statement concludes.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org