The Whitehorse Emergency Shelter is moving out of the Yukon government’s hands.
A press release issued June 15 by the territorial government announced that a non-government organization will be taking over the shelter at 405 Alexander St. in collaboration with the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) later this year.
The Yukon government confirmed in an email that it has approved paying Connective up to $5.4 million per year for ongoing operations and management of the shelter.
The two groups formalized their partnership just over a year ago.
Connective is a not-for-profit that operates in the Yukon and British Columbia. It is formerly known as the John Howard Society. CYFN is a non-profit political advocacy group representing Yukon First Nations that hold traditional territories.
The release notes this shift is the final part of the government’s plan to transfer operations and management of the Housing First residence on Wood Street, which occurred in April 2021, and the shelter, to a non-government organization.
Liz Vick, Connective’s vice president of strategy, told the News by phone June 16 that the relationship has been working “really well.”
Vick explained that CYFN has been providing services to Yukon First Nations residents while ensuring that the services provided are culturally appropriate and safe.
“We’ve been intending to do the same thing at the emergency shelter,” Vick said.
A 2019 release by the territorial government hypes up the Wood Street location as the territory’s first residence being operated under the Housing First approach to ending homelessness by providing people with immediate access to housing without sobriety or treatment requirements.
In the latest release, Connective and CYFN have been running the Wood Street location for more than a year and have “demonstrated success in working together.”
Vick said there will be limited changes at the shelter other than enhancing and expanding programming in consultation with community partners.
“There are no significant changes,” she said. “We’re looking to sustain the model.”
It is intended to be a smooth move and it comes just a few weeks after the auditor general of Canada dropped a housing report with dire conclusions. The audit points out that the Yukon Housing Corporation and the department of Health and Social Services have not worked together or with housing partners to effectively get a handle on housing for those most in need.
On June 11, the News reported some of the struggles being faced by the shelter.
“By completing the final phase of our government’s commitment to transfer operations of both the Housing First residence and the Whitehorse shelter to a non-governmental partner, we will better support vulnerable Yukoners who are facing homelessness,” Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said in the release.
“I look forward to seeing how Connective and the Council of Yukon First Nations improve this facility and the critical support services they offer.”
The shelter is open all day, every day.
Day-to-day functions will not change and services will not be interrupted by the transition, according to Claire Robson, senior communications advisor for the department of Health and Social Services, in a June 16 email.
“Connective in partnership with Council of Yukon First Nations will continue to operate the shelter at 405 Alexander Street as a person-centred, trauma-informed, low-barrier program,” Robson said.
The Yukon government will continue providing its emergency medical services on-site paramedic program, mental wellness and substance use services and community outreach services at the shelter.
The government has been operating the shelter since early 2019 when it was called the Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope. The 2020-21 community safety plan for the shelter states that when the shelter changed hands back then, it scaled up operations and transitioned from the Salvation Army within six weeks, including training and mentoring an almost entirely new staff.
The 2020-21 plan notes the CYFN took part in planning sessions and that a majority of shelter clients are Indigenous. Indigenous input was considered notable given the historical context of imposed colonialism and efforts made to “stamp out all sense of their identity and ways of life.”
Connective is becoming responsible for staffing the shelter and recruiting employees. Vick said existing staff will continue to work there given their relevant knowledge and experience. New positions will be also created to focus on supporting Yukon First Nations, shelter users and residents.
The Yukon NDP said in a June 15 statement it is hopeful the changeover will help the shelter realize its full potential.
“How the government manages the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter is not working for users, for staff and for downtown residents,” Whitehorse Centre NDP MLA Emily Tredger said in the statement.
The NDP has called for a coroner’s inquest into two deaths earlier this year at the shelter.
“There are lots of hopes and expectations around this change,” Tredger said.
“I look forward to strong community partnerships, programming and a safe space for people needing emergency housing. Connective has worked hard to build relationships in the community, and we look forward to a new approach at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.”
The transfer is taking place on Oct. 1.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org