A Housing First building on Fifth Avenue and Wood Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 5. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

YG to open Housing First project in downtown Whitehorse next week

The Official Opposition says it’s been mired by delays, budgetary problems

The Yukon government is unveiling a Housing First project on Fifth Avenue and Wood Street on Nov. 12, according to Pauline Frost, minister of the Yukon Housing Corporation (YHC).

Clients, she said, will begin to move in over the course of the next few weeks. Frost said there are 16 permanent units at the facility.

The move signals an attempt to alleviate pressure on the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, whose numbers have swelled since the government took it over from the Salvation Army in January. On any given night, Frost said it accommodates upwards of 60 people. When the Salvation Army was in charge, roughly 15 people stayed there, on average, she noted.

“What I’m hoping (for) is by the end of this month we’ll see less pressure on bed requirements at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, because we’ve adjusted the profile and criteria for the high-acuity beds and the permanent beds at the shelter,” she said.

“We wanted to look at high-acuity clients and provide them with supports to move into permanent housing.”

But the Yukon Party, as raised by MLA Geraldine Van Bibber during question period on Oct. 5, says there are issues with cost overruns and the timing of the project’s final completion date.

Van Bibber said the project was expected to be completed in late June.

Frost evaded the question, saying that her department has been busying itself working with community partners and attempting to be as transparent as possible.

Frost said the contract awarded for the project was worth $3.9 million, that federal funding was accessed to make up a difference of $1.2 million.

Van Bibber said the actual cost of the project came in at $4.1 million.

When it comes to determining eligibility of those wanting to access the facility, a YHC spokesperson said via written statement that housing will be provided to those experiencing homelessness without preconditions or requirements.

“This includes not having requirements for residents to abstain from using substances or be ‘treatment compliant,’” Sarah Murray said. “In this way, the units will be residents’ private homes, similar to any other apartment. The housing first units will be for medium acuity clients and the shelter units will remain available for high acuity clients who struggle to maintain stable housing.”

Asked by reporters whether there were any delays, Frost said there weren’t any.

Murray said construction of the building was anticipated to be completed in June, however.

“Substantial completion of the project was achieved on July 17, 2019,” she said. “The Yukon Housing Corporation received the occupancy permit in October 2019 and the Government of Yukon has been working on an operational model for the residence and moving forward with fit-up of the units.”

Twenty transitional units at the shelter have been converted into a permanent housing complex.

Frost said transitional housing programs continue to be offered at Skookum Jim Friendship Centre and Kaushee’s Place, among others.

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

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