A Watson Lake resident says it’s time to get serious about building an emergency shelter in the community.
Fred Statham, who’s been running the Saint Vincent de Paul soup kitchen since 2012, said the homeless situation has reached a critical point.
“Whitehorse has the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre and the Salvation Army, and we have nothing,” he said.
“A lot of homeless people hang around town during the day. At night there’s a lot of couch surfing going on or they just try to find a place that’s warm.
“We just need a small location that could accommodate about a dozen people.”
The town has a shelter for women and children but nowhere for men to go when they need a place to sleep or dry out.
Statham said he has a hard time pinning down exactly how many people he considers homeless in the community.
He said it could easily be between two and 20. Watson Lake has roughly 950 residents.
People without permanent homes tend to move from couch to couch, making them harder to track, he said.
Statham wants to become a member of the Watson Lake Chamber of Commerce in order to get its help preparing a proposal for the shelter.
He said he should be allowed to join the organization because the soup kitchen is a sole proprietorship business.
Statham has been advocating for a men’s shelter for the past three years.
“They told me I needed to get more grassroots support,” he said, referring to the territorial government.
Statham said he’s been working towards achieving that, but he needs help to develop a concrete plan.
Watson Lake Mayor Richard Durocher said Statham’s heart is in the right place, but he’s concerned about the lack of data.
Until firmer numbers become available, it’ll be hard to move forward on this project, he said.
“I understand Fred’s passion for the needy within our municipality, and we feel the same way, we stand behind and back any initiative that helps people,” he said.
“But we don’t know what the numbers are and therein lies the problem. I’m just wondering if it’s a cart before the horse scenario.”
Durocher said he invites the Department of Health and Social Services to visit Watson Lake and see the situation for itself.
Having lived in the community for 36 years, he said he couldn’t remember ever meeting someone who was homeless.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, Durocher added.
Statham said at this point, he just wants to get the ball rolling at next Tuesday’s chamber meeting.
“Hopefully we can put together a proposal the government would be interested in,” he said.
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