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Whitehorse Emergency Shelter cuts meal service amid overspending as demand goes up

Worker suggests Connective is in "panic mode" while operator says it's careful planning
Free food options available in Whitehorse. Connective isn't the only service provider that offers meal services in the city.

Despite an uptick in demand for free meals at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, the shelter operator is cutting down the number of breakfasts, lunches and dinners it offers each day due to “significant overspending.”  

The News obtained an email from regional director Gigi McKee of Connective Support Society, generally known as Connective, to staff. The email cites a “significant increase in the number of service users” that has stretched the non-government organization’s capacity based on its funding, as well as escalating food costs and higher expenses on to-go items. 

“Starting in May of last year, we responded to an urgent need for community members in need of dinner meals and began feeding anyone who came to our door. This pilot project was essential in addressing immediate needs and highlighting the broader gap in dinner services within our community. However, it also contributed to our financial challenges and unfortunately is not something we can continue this year with the funding we have,” she wrote. 

“As a result, we have no choice but to limit the distribution of meals to what our current funding allows.” 

That means 75 meals per day at breakfast, lunch and dinner, for a total of 225 meals served daily, per McKee’s email. 

McKee’s email indicates Connective notified service users, community members and partners about the changes to its meal service program.    

She acknowledges front-line workers will be impacted by the cutback.    

One worker, whose name and title the News is withholding because they fear they will lose their job for speaking out, told the News by email that Connective is in “panic mode trying to desperately change things without proper diligence and care.”   

The worker estimated the shelter typically sees more than 100 clients at each service, which suggests some people won’t get fed.

Connective's communications team said by email that the shelter was actually seeing about 108 clients per meal service. They said the meal program will be reduced by an average of 125 meals daily compared to before the changes.

“We are acutely aware of the impact this will have on service users. Please rest assured that we are continuing conversations with our funders and exploring all other available funding opportunities,” McKee wrote in her email to staff.   

“While the decision to stop fulfilling needs beyond our funding is difficult, we hope this will highlight the larger gaps in support."   

Decentralizing services so that people can get help from a range of places (other than the shelter) is part of the Yukon government’s downtown safety plan. The plan targets “additional medium and high barrier locations where people can access food services.”   

Meanwhile, additional free food options provided by non-government organizations are still available around Whitehorse.  

For example, Blood Ties Four Directions Centre, which runs the supervised drug consumption site, is getting a boost of close to $179,000 in Yukon government funding to up its offerings per day and renovate its kitchen in hopes of better serving community members facing troubles accessing food in Whitehorse. 

At the shelter, the cuts are being phased in, starting June 24, when breakfast and dine-in dinner service were limited to 75 on a first-come, first served basis.   

As of July 2, the Fourth Avenue meals program, a bagged dinner at the door pilot project put in place temporarily because dinner is only served to guests staying overnight at the shelter, ended. 

When July 8 comes around, all meals will be limited to 75 servings. 

During an interview by phone with the News, Chris Kinch, Connective’s vice president of Yukon and Northern B.C. service delivery, calls the measure a "reduction" in service, rather than a cut. 

“It is just working within the budget we've had all along. So, we had some additional dollars last year to work with to increase the meal program temporarily. That was never intended to be an ongoing increase to service with the meal program,” he said.  

“We're not looking at this as how much more we might need to increase. Again, we'll continue to monitor the demand and any additional needs that we're seeing, and work with our funders, the Yukon government, to signal those changes or adjustments we might see.” 

While Connective is continuing to “explore opportunities for additional funds,” its leadership recognizes there are other food security service providers in the city and 405 Alexander St. is predominantly focused on feeding shelter guests.

Kinch said the reduction in service has so far had “fairly minimal” impact with only "a couple" of people who’ve been turned away early in the transition.  

“We're working with those individuals and to make sure people are fully aware of all of the food security services that are available within the city,” he said. 

Kinch argued Connective isn’t in panic mode, as the worker suggested.  

“I think we've carefully planned this out,” he said, adding that any change or adjustment, particularly when dealing with “vulnerable Yukoners,” can create some concern that must be carefully navigated by staff, leadership and community partners.  

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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