Health Minister Pauline Frost insists no one who shows up at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter for dinner will go without a meal, despite no drop-in dinner service being offered starting on Nov. 1. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Health Minister Pauline Frost insists no one who shows up at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter for dinner will go without a meal, despite no drop-in dinner service being offered starting on Nov. 1. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Non-profits concerned as Whitehorse Emergency Shelter ends drop-in dinner service

Minister Pauline Frost insists everyone who needs one ‘will be provided with a meal.’

No drop-in dinner service will be offered at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter beginning Nov. 1

However, Health Minister Pauline Frost insists no one who shows up at the shelter will go without a meal.

“The individuals who show up at the shelter asking for services are provided the services — if not at the shelter, then they are provided services elsewhere,” she told the legislature following questions from NDP leader Kate White on Oct. 29.

“Any individual who presents at the shelter who requires a meal will receive a meal,” she said.

Dave Blottner, executive director of the Whitehorse Food Bank, said that was not the impression he was given during a briefing for local non-profits on the morning of Oct. 29. He said he is concerned that 40 to 50 people who have been accessing dinner service wouldn’t have a place to go.

“We have requested the shelter serve bagged meals to those residents, or move their drop-in hours back a little to allow non-residents a chance to get a meal, or to try and work on a plan to see to it that these people would not be left without an evening meal,” Blottner said.

“We were told that at this time the shelter will not be exploring any of those options.”

Since COVID-19 began, the shelter has been struggling with how to provide meals for clients while handling physical distancing requirements. Over the summer the shelter began providing bagged meals to the Whitehorse Food Bank.

Blottner said the Food Bank was given 80 meals prepared by the shelter kitchen twice a day to distribute, seven days a week, while the shelter continued to serve meals to residents living on-site.

That program is set to expire Oct. 31. Hours for breakfast and lunch at the shelter have been extended to accommodate drop-in meal times in a warm place, but drop-in hours end at 4:30 p.m., after which only registered guests staying at the shelter overnight can access services.

On Oct. 29, speaking to reporters after the legislature, Frost insisted that people in need of a dinner presenting at the shelter “will be provided with support.”

“This action is nothing short of shameful,” said White, addressing the House following Frost’s answers.

White said the drop-in dinner is important for many individuals not staying overnight at the shelter – who may be struggling with costs or living in a hotel room without a kitchen.

“The government needs to reverse this heartless decision immediately. Drop-in hours at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter must be extended beyond 4:30 so that anyone who needs a meal can get it whether or not they’re staying overnight at the shelter,” she said.

White said non-profits have been stressed trying to provide a response, which has resulted in a patchwork of solutions – the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre offers a lunch, for example, and the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre offers dinners a few times a week.

“There just seems to be a disconnect between what the government thinks is happening and what’s actually happening,” White told reporters.

On social media the food bank has begun a campaign asking supporters to contact the minister with concerns.

Kristina Craig, executive director of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, said she understands the COVID-19 limitations and the complexities of running a low-barrier shelter. She said despite the best intentions of everyone working on food distribution, solutions are missing.

“I think we are all passionate, capable, professional, thoughtful workers, regardless of who we’re working for, and so it just would be nice if we could all collaborate,” she said.

In addition to hunger, Craig said drop-in dinners offer a place to warm up, socialize and connect with frontline workers.

“There’s a whole lot of isolation happening and we know the importance of food around reducing isolation, besides being also a harm reduction tool,” she said.

For years the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition has also worked with the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, Salvation Army, Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, Les EssentiElles and the food bank to serve meals outside the shelter to women and children through the Sally and Sisters/Soeurs program.

The program picked up and transported hot meals prepared by the shelter to the food bank, where those in need who weren’t comfortable attending emergency shelter meals were able to access the food.

In addition to being told that the regular drop-in dinner service wouldn’t be taking place at the shelter, Craig was also told that meals from the shelter would no longer be provided for Sally and Sisters/Soeurs.

“We approached the Yukon government to confirm that the food would be there. It was like that was an odd question for us to ask because there was obviously a lot of other places where we could source food for Sally and Sisters,” she said, adding that alternatives were not easy to find or fund.

In response during questions about Sally and Sisters from the NDP, Frost said in the House that the government is working on alternatives “we will continue to ensure that those individuals who utilize the program are supported.”

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

Whitehorse

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