The Centre of Hope building on Fourth Avenue in Whitehorse on Jan. 29. Run until recently by the Salvation Army, control of the building is being taken over by the Yukon government starting Jan. 31. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Some clients are in the dark about YG’s plans for the shelter it’s taking over this week

‘If the Yukon government needs to hear about something that needs to be done here, it would be care’

For some, it remains unclear what programming the Yukon government has in mind at the former Centre of Hope a day before the government officially assumes control of the shelter.

Some clients the News spoke with said they don’t know what’s going to happen to the very place which they rely on for essential services.

The Salvation Army’s current executive director, Ian McKenzie, who said he’s to be laid off when the government takes over on Jan. 31, said he hasn’t been provided with any information, either.

“In terms of how things are going to shape up going forward, I haven’t been provided with many details,” he said.

This statement was corroborated by Major Al Hoeft, the area commander.

“Unfortunately the Government of the Yukon has not shared with us any specifics regarding program shifts at the shelter,” he said in a written statement.

The News asked Patricia Living, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services, three times for any information concerning potential programming shifts. The closest answer pertained to certain operational changes.

“This includes such things as doors being unlocked most hours; additional shelter/mat capacity available on the ground floor; extended breakfast time; dorm bed closure extended to 10 a.m.; shelter bed intake 24/7; shift to a low barrier shelter operation,” she said in a written statement.

The News requested more clarity on certain points included in this list but didn’t receive a response from Living.

An initial statement Living sent to multiple news outlets in the city says that these operational changes are to be implemented in February. Specific details will be shared at a technical briefing that month, she said.

The statement also says the shelter will be temporarily called the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter. Some Salvation Army staff have been hired by the government for a spell.

Twenty more mats will be added on top of the 25 beds that are currently used, Living said; clients will be allowed to stay in dorms longer; meals, access to showers and laundry and “social activities” on Wednesdays will remain unchanged.

Some clients at the shelter want change, and quick.

One man, who refused to provide his name for safety and privacy reasons, said he wants the shelter to stay open later, noting that he wasn’t able to get into the centre on the night of Jan. 28 at 8 p.m.

“The door was locked,” he said.

He’s 75-years-old.

He said he stayed at a friend’s house instead, coming back in the morning at 6:30 a.m. only to find the doors still locked.

He was provided with no explanation, he said.

“They turn people away all the time,” he continued, noting that if people can’t get in, they bed down outside on a porch.

On the Yukon government taking control, for which he said he has been provided with no information on, he said: “I wish it’s better. I wish they keep it open until midnight or something.”

Brandon Janz, 21, said the most he knows is that the government is indeed going to start managing the shelter.

“If the Yukon government needs to hear about something that needs to be done here, it would be care, simple care,” he said. “People need beds. And if they don’t have beds supplied to them, they will find other ways of falling asleep, and sometimes that may be under a rotary bench, where people pass away,” he said, referring to a death that occurred last month.

“At the end of the day, everybody needs help,” Janz continued, adding that government has an opportunity to help the city’s most vulnerable people.

Asked what staff are doing right now to help him, he said they’re “putting us to bed on time. They don’t want to talk to people. They don’t want to figure out what’s going on.”

Another man, whose identity is also being kept anonymous, said the centre does have programs available right now like classes on quitting smoking and drum making classes. Food is provided, and clients are able to make phone calls.

He said he didn’t feel comfortable discussing the government takeover because he didn’t know enough to speak to it.

Phyllis Hager has been staying overnight at the shelter for a couple months.

“They’ve been really good. They washed our clothes and let us stay overnight, wake us up at like 6:30 a.m., give you breakfast and stuff like that. It’s really good,” she said.

“There’s no problems at all, just when they don’t have room for people, they put them in the lounge.”

The building, which was paid for by the territorial and federal governments, cost roughly $14 million. It opened in 2017.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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