Ten temporary shelter beds are scheduled to open this week in downtown Whitehorse and remain open until the end of April.
The new shelter will be managed by the Kwanlin Dun First Nation out of the former St. Elias group home on Fifth Avenue.
“This really came about because there were people for whatever reason, either not able to or choosing not to access the other shelters that we have in town,” said Christina Sim, the First Nation’s manager of outreach and health promotions.
“(We want) to try and provide them a safe, warm place until the spring.”
If everything goes as planned the new facility will open on Feb. 3 and run seven days a week from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
The First Nation has hired 16 staff to cover shifts at the shelter.
“We know this is not a permanent solution. We know shelters are not housing, and we know safe and appropriate housing options are still needed,” said Chief Doris Bill.
“At the same time, given the time of year and the weather outside … we support the interim relief, ensuring more warm beds are available to the city’s most at-risk population.”
Bill said she’s heard from homeless people in Whitehorse who were sleeping in local businesses or sheds to keep warm.
The temporary shelter will be open to men and women and will offer snacks and a common area along with a place to sleep.
Since it’s only a temporary location there won’t be the same level of programming that exists at other shelters. But Sim said many of the staff who have been hired have experience working with the same clientele who may be using the shelter.
People who may be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs are welcome to use the shelter’s beds, Sim said.
“The staff have training to support people that are coming who may have had something to drink or be using,” she said.
“If they need additional help, health care, ambulance, that sort of thing, then staff will assess them accordingly and provide that additional support.”
Whitehorse’s Salvation Army shelter is in the middle of a large expansion.
Construction of a new facility was expected to be finished by the fall of 2016, but contaminated soil and other delays led to the completion date being pushed back to April.
The Salvation Army is still finalizing plans for moving in after construction is complete, said executive director Ian McKenzie. He suspects it will be at least a few weeks after the keys are handed over before the shelter gets up and running.
The current shelter has 14 beds, and often operates at more than twice its capacity by laying out additional mats on the floor in common areas.
“By and large we’ve been full each night through the cold snaps,” McKenzie said.
The new building is expected to have 25 emergency beds and 20 transitional housing beds.
Bill said she doesn’t expect the temporary shelter beds will be needed next winter once the new Salvation Army location is up and running.
The Yukon government is providing $90,000 to the Kwanlin Dun First Nation for the temporary shelter. The First Nation is contributing $5,000.
The building is owned by the Department of Health and Social Services.
It’s old and is known to have mould in the basement. Health department spokesperson Pat Living said the basement has been sealed off and will not be accessible to staff or clients using the shelter.
“While preparing the building for use as a shelter, (the Department of) Highways and Public Works did air quality testing and all tests came back normal with no presence of mould in the upstairs area which will be used for the shelter,” she said in an email.
Last April the St. Elias group home was moved to a new $4.2-million building downtown.
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