New emergency beds for homeless youth in Whitehorse could mask the urgent need for a dedicated shelter, say critics.
The four-month Health-funded pilot project will cost $227,000.
It is being led by Skookum Jim Friendship Centre.
Since Friday, two beds at alcohol and drug services have been available for youth aged 17 to 20.
There is confusion about whether beds are also available at Kaushee’s Place.
Kaushee’s will take two to four people, said the centre’s family-support worker Viola Papequash on Tuesday.
The centre’s executive director Michelle Kolla was less certain.
Kaushee’s “is one facility we may use,” she said.
Papequash said the centre would open safe homes in the community, but hadn’t found any yet.
Kolla said the centre did have beds in safe homes.
“We have six beds,” she said.
Alcohol and drug services will accept both boys and girls in its facility, said manager Larry Whitfield after a discussion with Skookum officials on Friday.
But both beds must be occupied by a person of the same sex.
“They spoke with Kaushee’s on Friday and my understanding was they were on board,” said Whitfield.
Kaushee’s refused comment. Officials wouldn’t explain why.
Skookum Jim Friendship Centre has set up a hotline.
Youth in need of a bed can call, talk with a support worker and, if they fit the bill, they might get a bed.
Youth under 17 will be referred to child and family services.
So far, no one has called.
Skookum Jim is getting $191,000 to cover the salaries of four outreach workers for four months, said Health spokesperson Pat Living on Tuesday.
There will be two on-call workers per shift, answering calls from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. seven days a week.
It works out to roughly $11,000 per month, per worker.
“There are some minor costs like cellphones and the car rental and gas, but the majority of the funding is going to salaries,” said Living.
Another $36,000 is going to the Bluefeather Youth Centre to extend its hours of operation, she said.
“When a program is done under short timelines, like this was, it often has an additional price tag associated with it,” Health Minister Brad Cathers said on Wednesday.
“But if a similar program continues, in future there would more opportunity to fine-tune the numbers and the cost.”
Kolla would not say what training the support workers have.
“Are you hiring them, or am I?” she said.
The pilot project is “to evaluate the number of youth who actually needed these services,” said Cathers.
“That will assist us working with the Council of Yukon First Nations and non-government organizations in developing the appropriate long-term strategies.
“Youth under 17 will be put in under child and family services. And we do have emergency beds put aside, as we have for many years.”
But making beds available for a narrow range of youth at an addictions treatment centre and woman’s shelter won’t attract youth, said frontline workers and critics.
And youth may be afraid of child and family services, said youth organizations.
Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services, formerly Yukon Family Services, was not involved in the pilot project.
Neither was the Whitehorse Youth Coalition, which released More than a Roof in March 2007 — a 127-page, federally funded implementation plan for a Whitehorse emergency youth shelter.
“I learned about it from a friend who heard it on the radio,” said youth coalition co-chair Dave Prodan on Tuesday.
“We knew something was happening and we petitioned the government to include us in the negotiations and maybe consider what work we’d already done, but they never did,” said Prodan.
Both the Council of Yukon First Nations and Kwanlin Dun First Nation had concerns with the More than a Roof proposal, said Cathers, explaining why Many Rivers and the youth coalition weren’t consulted.
Despite being shutout, Prodan is happy there are now beds available.
“It’s an important step in the right direction,” he said.
But there are gaps.
Youth aged 12 to 16 still need help, said Prodan.
“So whatever information they’ve gathered (with the pilot) is not going to reflect the needs of younger youth.”
More than a Roof identified the need for a shelter for Whitehorse youth ages 12 to 19.
“So, 17 to 20 is going to meet the needs of the older youth, but I would want to ask, what will happen to those younger youth who are not going to access family and children’s services for whatever reasons,” said Many Rivers executive director Marilyn Wolovick, also co-chair of the youth coalition.
“Sometimes youth have run away from a facility run by family and children’s services or have had a bad experience — there are many reasons a young person might be afraid to go that route,” she said.
On Tuesday morning, Wolovick hadn’t heard about the new emergency beds.
Neither had the Many River’s outreach van co-ordinator.
Again, there were more discrepancies.
Outreach van workers and RCMP had been “handing out information” on the emergency beds, said Kolla and Papequash.
There are business cards bearing the phone number, they said.
The RCMP is not actively handing out the cards, said a spokesperson, noting the detachment has only been given two cards.
The RCMP is aware of the program, but is waiting for direction from Skookum Jim Friendship Centre.
Wolovick was surprised at word its outreach van workers were distributing information.
“Really?” she said.
“If our co-ordinator had heard anything, she would have mentioned it to me.
“It was surprising to hear from reporters about something we’ve been trying to initiate for some years.”
However, it’s good something is happening, she added.
“I want to support it in whatever way we can,” said Wolovick. “And it’s great that a First Nation organization is providing the leadership — we will back it 100 per cent.
“We have been trying to communicate with the government for months now around this issue and we haven’t been able to get to the table to offer supports or resources or find out what was in the works.”
Papequash couldn’t say why Many Rivers and the Youth Coalition were not part of the process.
“You’d have to ask Michelle (Kolla),” she said.
Kolla skirted the issue.
“It doesn’t mean they won’t be part of the process,” she said.
Wolovick is questioning the government’s role.
“I’m wondering if the government should be more accountable,” she said.
“The youth coalition was criticized for not consulting enough around our initiative to develop an implementation plan, so I would just wonder about the government’s responsibility (to consult).”
It’s typical that nobody knew, said New Democrat John Edzerza on Tuesday.
“This is obviously a Band-Aid solution that really ignores what young people have said and the real needs that they have expressed.”
And it’s not going to work, he said.
“My brain actually went numb for a little bit when I heard it.
“I mean, putting homeless youth in the ADS facility, in Kaushee’s place for battered women — I mean, give me a break.
“I couldn’t believe it — heaven forbid if there was ever any abundance of vacancies at WCC.”
Cathers should have attended the youth rally this fall, said Edzerza.
“Then he may have heard some of the real things from the real people.
“I believe a lot of the homeless youth and the ones that are having problems are much younger (than 17 to 20).
“Go to any youth facility and you’ll see what age group hangs out there, they are more early teens — 14 to 20.”
Edzerza is worried about the motives behind the emergency-bed pilot.
“I certainly hope the government doesn’t have a hidden agenda here, to demonstrate there is no need for a shelter if these kids don’t go to those places,” he said.
“Because obviously they’re not going to go to a place they’re running away from.”
These youth may be on the street because of alcohol issues in their home, so why would they feel safe going to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre to find a bed and be in with people that have addictions, he said.
“Or they may be having problems at home with parents who may be giving them a rough time and why would they want to go to Kaushee’s when that’s where other families that are having problems are?
“It’s kind of like asking somebody that wants to get away from a violent environment to go stay at the ‘98.
“I just can’t believe it.”
It’s not surprising that the service hasn’t been used yet, said Heather Finton, who co-wrote More than a Roof and runs Sundog Retreat.
Both of those services offering beds are linked to particular kinds of crises, said Finton on Tuesday.
“Alcohol and drug services is linked to the idea you’re having trouble managing substance use, and Kaushee’s is linked to the idea you’re experiencing physical abuse.
“I think that in itself will make it more complex in terms of youth feeling comfortable accessing those services.
“This may still be an effective start, but it’s going to take a little time and it’s no wonder that the phone’s not ringing off the hook.”
The flip side would be a safe and welcoming environment, she said.
If a youth-friendly organization, or one of the existing youth centres opened some safe beds, this would change the whole dynamic, said Finton.
“If there was a group that was already clearly linked to youth and they were saying, ‘Hey, guess what, we’ve started this new space for you,’ I think the phone would be ringing a lot more than with this program that’s clearly linked to government provision of service.”
And youth under 17 who need a bed could be deterred by the possibility that child and family services might be contacted, she added.
“There could defiantly be youth who don’t call because they don’t want their name linked to family and children’s services.
“I would be concerned if this program doesn’t have a lot of uptake that the conclusion is drawn that the need is not there — because I do not believe that that is the case.
“I’d be concerned this program might not prove uptake because of the fact that it isn’t linked to a youth-friendly space.”
“The winter’s half over, it’s 40 below in Whitehorse and we finally have this Band-Aid solution,” said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell from Vancouver.
“If the service is going to work as intended then youth have to be comfortable with the proposed shelter and solution — that’s the biggest issue,” he said.
“And from what I’ve seen, being out on the street talking to the young people, they don’t trust the man, so to speak.
“Let’s face it, if kids are in trouble, they can ring the bell at 3 a.m. at the RCMP detachment, but they’re not going to do that — so the question is, will they do this?”