One may think lower temperatures mean more people sleeping at the Salvation Army emergency shelter, but that’s not always the case.
Over the past few years, shelter staff have seen more people spending the night in the summer than the winter.
“It’s sort of the opposite of what I would have expected,” said Jeff Howard, who along with his wife, Shannon, leads the local Salvation Army.
They don’t know why this happens, but suspect family members or friends may be more willing to take people in when it’s cold out, he said.
Numbers of people staying at the shelter have been fairly consistent this year, and more people are using the space, he said. But this could be because the shelter can now accommodate 30 people a night. Before, it only had 14 beds. Earlier this year, the emergency shelter received 16 gym mats from Health and Social Services.
“Since we’ve increased the capacity, we’re not all the way full, all the time. Most nights we’re around 27, 28 people who are using these spaces,” he said.
Mainly men use the shelter, said. The beds are in two rooms. When a woman comes in for a place to sleep, she stays in a room with four beds in it, and that room becomes an all-female space for the night.
Additional beds would be better, but right now the shelter does not have space for more, he said. The Salvation Army is also talking with the territorial government about how it can expand its programs beyond giving food and a place to sleep.
More people are eating at the shelter, said Howard. Since he came here in 2009, the number of meals served at the Salvation Army has risen from 3,500 people a month to 5,000 a month. Most of that increase has happened this past year, he said.
The numbers aren’t just rising at the Salvation Army. The food bank serves more than 1,300 people a month – over 300 people more than last year, an October report from the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition says.
Not everyone who eats at the Salvation Army spends the night. Sharon Aviugana stops by a couple times a week for lunch. When she moved to Whitehorse from Edmonton three years ago, she stayed there for a few months until she found a place to stay. Now, she comes “just to see family and friends.”
The shelter provides a social space – there’s cable TV and a VCR. And volunteers teach people how to use the Internet, said Aviugana.
Working in Whitehorse can be a challenge, said Howard.
“Whitehorse is not a large city, but we see some of the social problems, in terms of homelessness and poverty and some of that, proportionately are much larger. So we kind of have large city social issues in what is really a smaller community.”
But he can’t see himself doing anything else. He recently saw a man who used to come to the shelter regularly. Over the past year, staff watched him put his life together. They helped him get to job interviews. He’s “doing really well now,” said Howard. He’s gotten a job and found a place to live.
“When you see people actually able to make change and have it be sustained, it’s really quite incredible.”
Whitehorse residents can help the transformation. The Salvation Army Christmas kettles will be out near Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, Real Canadian Superstore and the liquor store starting this weekend. People can also text Hope2013 to 45678 to make a $5 donation or visit www.fillthekettle.com. The goal is to raise $75,000 this year. Volunteers for the kettles are also needed.
Contact Meagan Gillmore at