Businesses around the Salvation Army are fed up.
Two months of broken windows and a $1,000-damages bill pushed them to speak out.
“It presents a horrible image for our city,” said Patrick Singh who owns Mark & Paddy’s Wondrous Music Emporium, which shares an alleyway with the downtown shelter. “They’re trashing the area behind my shop (and the place) is a hub for street-life activity.
“All we’re asking is for the Salvation Army to be responsible for what is going on. It seems to me that as soon as somebody walks out their front door, they take no responsibility for them. Their property needs to be cleaned up. Give that place a paint job.”
Singh has been nominated spokesman for several area businesses on this issue, including Northern Hempisphere, Hendrik’s Barber Shop and Peacock Sales Ltd.
Singh was especially annoyed when he heard the shelter’s annual budget was $750,000.
“I think this money is being wasted,” he said. “There’s groups with viable, great plans to deal with this issue. Let’s start giving them some money. It’s time to let some other groups have a shot at dealing with this issue because obviously, in the past 20 years that I have been here, nothing has changed there.”
Singh isn’t suggesting the shelter should be shut down, but he does want to see some changes, he said.
And there have been some very recent changes that the Salvation Army is proud and very optimistic about, said Captain Jeff Howard.
A few months ago, the shelter decided to stop allowing clients to come and go, starting at 11 p.m.
“We found that most of the people that were causing trouble overnight were people that were there for the drop-in piece and that they actually had a home or a place to go to,” said Howard. “So our intention was to encourage them to be at home at night.”
The policy change is not meant to cut off the only place people have to go if they need it.
The shelter is always accessible, but once someone comes and goes more than once, staff will request they not come back again that night, said Howard.
The most exciting change is a small, but significant, switch in staffing, he said.
Through some budget manoeuvring, the shelter has been able to create a case-management position.
“We’re taking the first step in moving beyond keeping people alive to doing a little bit more intentional work with them,” said Howard.
The goal is to wean clients off the shelter, and that work may vary from finding a job and an apartment for one person, to remembering to wear shoes each day for another person, he said.
“Whatever the need is, just try and walk alongside people and see what we can do to help move them towards independence.”
But this isn’t, necessarily, the shelter’s job, said Liz Hanson, MLA for Whitehorse-Centre and leader of the New Democrats.
“Sally Anne is stretched beyond its capacity,” she said. “It was never designed to provide a full spectrum of services for people with complex issues.”
While speaking with Singh at his second business – a hot dog stand on the corner of Main and Third – on Wednesday, Hanson said she was happy to hear him bring up the array of reports and research done on the issue of homelessness and substance abuse in Whitehorse.
She points directly to the report on acutely intoxicated persons done by Dr. Bruce Beaton and James Allen, chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation.
That report cites Winnipeg, where the same issues are being addressed with the support of the business community.
Solutions do exist, but expecting it all to be done by the Salvation Army is not acceptable, she said.
However, right now, it’s the only place.
“I have seen many studies that have been done and committees that have been organized,” said Singh. “But you never see any results. Ever. Just study after study
after study. The amount of money they’ve spent on these studies over the years probably would have done a lot better being in the hands of the people. Stop with the freakin’ studies. Start with the action, now.”
That’s exactly what the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce is doing, said Rick Karp, its president.
“We’re 100 per cent action now,” he said, after showing the stretched-out file folder on his desk, filled with reports.
The businesses around the shelter are not the only people who have to deal with things like vandalism and loitering, said Karp, listing the waterfront as another downtown area with similar problems.
We need to look at the core issue, and that is the housing crisis, he said.
“When everyone is worried about their own existence, how are we supposed to worry about someone else.
“Those who are in need are not getting the attention they need because all of our attention is somewhere else.”
And those who gather at the Salvation Army can’t be pushed anywhere else, said Hanson. Because of the town’s geography, Whitehorse has no obvious Downtown Eastside, she said. With the escarpment on one side and the river on the other, the territory’s capital is more like a fishbowl, forcing everyone into the centre.
The Salvation Army does do hourly, perimeter checks of the area surrounding the shelter but there is little else they can do – their staff do not have the legal ability to detain anyone and they can not carry weapons to protect themselves, said Howard. When things escalate, their only option is to call the RCMP.
Using drugs or alcohol is not permitted on the premises, noted one shelter worker.
“If I see them doing that, I always send them to the alley way,” she said, pointing in the direction of Mark & Paddy’s.
“Until we provide adequate treatment resources and supports for people, there’s going to people abusing substances downtown and how do we just shush them away from our area seems to be the issue,” said Ross Findlater from the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition. “I can understand a business owner being quite concerned. That’s neither surprising nor unreasonable. But whether they’re down by the waterfront, hanging around the liquor store or whatever, it’s a fact of life right now until resources are made available to help support where they so choose to treat people to help beat the addictions back.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at