In lieu of drop-in dinner service at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, meals are now being prepared at the Coast High Country Inn and served from the Family Hotel at 314 Ray St. (Yukon News file)

In lieu of drop-in dinner service at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, meals are now being prepared at the Coast High Country Inn and served from the Family Hotel at 314 Ray St. (Yukon News file)

Shelter dinner service transitioned to bagged meals at the Family Hotel

“It did become clear that there was a continued need outside of our shelter guests.”

After the government ended the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter drop-in dinner service, an alternative arrangement has been made through contracts with local hotels to provide bagged meals.

“It did become clear that there was a continued need outside of our shelter guests,” said Karen Chan, assistant deputy minister of corporate services.

While mealtimes have been extended at the shelter for breakfast and lunch, Chan said COVID-19 spacing issues at the shelter and the community safety plan required a different solution for dinner meals.

Meals will now be prepared at the Coast High Country Inn and served from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Family Hotel at 314 Ray St.

A dine-in breakfast program continues to be offered at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. and a lunch service takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., an extension that can accommodate multiple seatings in order to be COVID-19 safe.

Daljeet Dhillon, the owner of the Family Hotel, said she was approached by Health and Social Services about serving the meals from the hotel.

“The community needed someplace to serve the meals, and we said, ‘Yes, we can do it.’ It’s a good thing the government is doing something for the community, and we’re participating in that,” she said.

Chan said the government has an existing contract with the High Country Inn and a “small contract” was negotiated with the Family Hotel for its role in the program.

Dhillon said since the meals started being handed out on Nov. 1, they’ve been seeing around 30 people daily.

“We’re handing them out with precautions. So we have a small, tiny office window, people come to the other side and tell us what they want and we hand them that bag. Then they go,” she said.

Dhillon said the individuals picking up the bagged meals are happy to receive them.

The service will run until the end of March when a longer-term solution can be explored, said Chan.

“We continue to work with the community partners, there’s a group that’s meeting that is quite keen. So we’ll continue to work with them around medium and longer-term goals as it relates to food security or insecurity in the Yukon,” she said.

Yukon NDP party leader Kate White said she believes public pressure led to the last-minute solution.

“It’s incredibly troubling that the government had to be shamed into doing the right thing. A progressive government would never have made that kind of decision without a backup plan,” she said.

White said while the availability of meals is important, addressing the issue with bagged meals means more isolation.

“It’s winter. So if you’re isolated … and you pick up your bag meal, you’re going to go home by yourself. Being able to socialize and to visit with people is important, right? That human connection is important,” she said.

White said she is grateful that the two hotels agreed to be involved, but said last-minute, sole-sourced contracts are often more expensive than necessary and questioned why the shelter’s emergency kitchen couldn’t be used to prepare the meals.

Chan said the plan involved a lot of logistics, and the decision not to use the shelter kitchen allows a focus on shelter residents and relates to social distancing for staff.

“This partnership seems to be working now to meet all those needs,” she said.

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

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