New group home opens in Whitehorse

A new group home for adults with cognitive disabilities and mental illnesses has opened in downtown Whitehorse. 

A new group home for adults with cognitive disabilities and mental illnesses has opened in downtown Whitehorse.

The $4.2-million St. Elias group home on Hoge Street can accommodate up to 10 people with moderate to severe needs and will be staffed 24 hours a day.

Staff and government officials were on hand for the official ribbon cutting and tour on Thursday.

Residents start moving in on Monday.

The new facility is a significant upgrade from the former St. Elias home on Fifth Avenue which housed a maximum of five people. That building will be torn down once the three or four residents who live there move out, said Health Minister Mike Nixon.

The new building is more than 7,000 square feet – about 2,000 square feet more than the old place – and all on one storey. It has a large, open-concept kitchen and living room, plus a rec room with computers and gym equipment. There’s a yard in the back where the plan is to put a fire pit.

It includes six individual bedrooms. There are also four suites with their own kitchens meant for residents who can live more independently, with help just outside the door.

The extra space means more room for staff and more room for programming like cooking lessons, painting or carving, Nixon said. In the old, small, location most of the programs had to be done off-site.

“With my son, who has autism, one of the key things for us is that when he becomes an adult that he has the highest level of skill possible for an individual that was diagnosed as low functioning,” Nixon said.

“There’s constant work that needs to happen, it’s not just a matter of teaching somebody to brush their teeth, for an example, it’s a continuum of that. So the more space, the better it is for staff.”

The new building bumps the number for group home spaces in the territory from 18 to 23.

As the public was having a look around the new digs on Thursday, residents in the old St. Elias building were packing, said Jean Kellogg, the department’s manager of services for persons with disabilities.

“That’s their job for the day.”

Some residents have already had a chance to come in and look around and are making plans for their new spaces, she said.

In one case a resident who likes to garden is having garden boxes built outside.

“He said, ‘I’m going to grow vegetables, and I’m going to bring them into the kitchen and I’m going to wash them and I’m going to cook them and I’m going to eat them.”

Currently there are six Yukoners in government care living Outside of the territory because they couldn’t be cared for in the Yukon.

With this new building, one person is able to come back.

“She was sent out because her care needs were such that we just couldn’t manage them a few years ago, but we’re building capacity here so we’re able to bring her back. She’s thrilled and we’re thrilled,” Kellogg said.

The woman has been calling as she prepares to fly home.

“It’s hard to put this into words. It’s exciting. She’s from the territory, she’s coming home. It’s really fantastic.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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