The Salvation Army is expected to decide in the next week or so whether to allow men to move into some of the transitional apartments designated for women.
The Centre of Hope opened last year but the 20 transitional apartments, designed to support people for up to a year, only started accepting clients in January. One floor with 10 apartments was designated for women and another for men.
Since then the 10 units on the floor designated for men have filled up and there is a wait list.
On the women’s floor there are currently four empty apartments, the Yukon Department of Health and Social Services says.
Ian McKenzie, executive director of the Centre of Hope, said the Sally Anne is considering using the empty units for men on the waiting list but at least one women’s group says that’s a mistake.
McKenzie said the Sally Anne has not been getting applications from women. “Most of the women who have applied so far we have accepted to the best of my knowledge,” he said.
He suggested one possible reason for the empty apartments could be because the Sally Anne generally sees more men then women looking for help.
“There may be other reasons. It may be that women in the community have ways of sharing space that men might not, that I don’t know. That’s just a bit of speculation on my part.”
But Charlotte Hrenchuck with the Yukon Status of Women Council and the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition said there are women who could use the apartments. Giving them up to men “would be a very bad idea because I think if they did that then those units are lost to women forever,” she said.
She said the Sally Anne needs to do more outreach to find women who might need the spaces.
“If they’re looking at their own clientele who’s coming to lunches for example, well it’s more men then women. (Those) using drop-in, it’s more men then women,” she said.
“So in order to reach women they’re going to have to go beyond the confines of their building for instance.”
McKenzie said the Sally Anne has been working to ensure that “we have made every effort to connect with women’s groups and agencies in the community to ensure that they have all of the information that they need.”
Most recently staff have reached out to the Grey Mountain Housing Society to see if it has any clients who would qualify. Sally Anne has asked the organization to get back to it “within a week or so,” he said.
Hrenchuck said there are barriers that might keep women from applying for the apartments. Guests — including children and family members — are not allowed in the building.
McKenzie said that will eventually change but the Salvation Army decided to wait to allow guests until “once we’ve got everything up and running.”
“The intent is that there’ll be some visiting time during the day and they’ll be able to visit in the common lounge of each floor of the transitional apartments but we haven’t done that at the moment,” he said.
“For us it was just part of the transition to make sure we have the fundamentals working properly. This is all new for us here.”
Hrenchuck said the idea that they would be kept away from family might be a deterrent for women.
“So if you’re a women with children … minors, you wouldn’t be able to have them in your room. If you are trying to reunite with your children for instance, that could be a barrier,” she said.
Hrenchuck also pointed to the building’s rules around sobriety as a possible barrier.
According to McKenzie residents are not immediately kicked out for coming to the transitional apartments intoxicated but drugs and alcohol are not allowed on the site.
“But if it’s an ongoing behaviour then we look at whether there’s a need to ask someone to leave, if they need some other kind of support,” he said.
“It’s not just a question of throwing them out on the street but it’s working with community groups and seeing if there’s a way we can redirect this individual to something that’s more appropriate for them.”
Hrenchuck also said that historically women have not felt safe at the Sally Anne.
“I think a lot of women have said over the years that they do not feel safe there so they don’t go there for certain services.”
On the east end of the building there are four of the apartments at the end of the hallway on the women’s floor. That section of the hall on the women’s floor can be partitioned off and locked, McKenzie said. Men living in those units would have to take the elevator to a lower floor and then walk up stairs to get to their units without walking through the women’s space.
No one from the Yukon Department of Health and Social Service, which paid for the building and pays the Salvation Army to run it, would agree to an interview.
In an email spokesperson Pat Living said “while HSS supports and provides input to the Salvation Army, the policies for the shelter are SA policies, some of which are national. The agreement we signed with them sets out a very high level framework and nothing specific to policies governing the facility.”
She said the department has spoken to the Sally Anne about opening vacant suites to men and “about reaching out to find folks who would be candidates for the transitional living suites.”
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org