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Yukon government releases community safety plan for Whitehorse Emergency Shelter

The government is now reviewing the plan and working on creating an implementation group
The Yukon government has made public a community safety plan drawn up for the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter which is broken down into 14 goals and 26 actions to achieve those goals. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

The Yukon government has made public a community safety plan drawn up for the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, but officials say a yet-to-be-formed implementation group will ultimately decide if the document’s 26 recommendations are accepted.

The government publicly released the plan, created via Public Safety Canada’s community safety planning process, the afternoon of June 30.

The document, dated May 21, is the result of months of surveys, interviews and meetings with community members including local residents and business owners, people who use the shelter, NGOs who offer overlapping support services, governments and the RCMP.

It highlights four key areas for the Yukon government, who took over the shelter from the Salvation Army early this year, to focus on, broken down into 14 goals and 26 actions to achieve those goals.

The key areas, in order of importance, are ensuring the safety of shelter clients, drop-in guests and staff; enhancing the shelter’s strategic and operational governance; creating a safe and harmonious neighbourhood for clients, local residents and businesses; and ensuring clients have access to culturally-based programs, services and supports.

The recommended goals and actions range from assessing to what degree the shelter’s design can accommodate a “low-barrier” approach, reviewing intake and access procedures and reinforcing behavioural protocols for staff, clients and visitors to hosting a community BBQ event to build “constructive relationships” between shelter guests and neighbouring residents and businesses.

The plan also summarizes issues raised during outreach efforts, including the safety of female shelter clients as well as staff at local businesses, “fairly frequent” sexual activity, “excess littering, empty bottles, excrement,” a lack of programming for guests, the lack of separation between people who drink or use drugs from people who require sober living, and trespassing.

The government is now in the midst of reviewing the plan and creating an implementation group — another recommendation — to guide the plan’s roll-out, Yukon Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost said in a joint interview with Justice Minister Tracy McPhee July 2.

“It took us many months to get here and lots of really great participation and input, so of course it’s essential that we look at the safety plan and the recommendations that came out of the safety plan in order to achieve the goals that, really, it set for us,” Frost said.

Frost cited the government’s response to COVID-19 as the reason for the more than a month between the government receiving the plan and releasing it to the public.

“The priority for us was ensuring we provided supports to Yukoners to ensure that their health and well-being was taken care of … It was essential and necessary that we took the time to get (the community safety plan) right and get it out but we also need to balance priorities accordingly,” Frost said.

The government, Frost noted, has already made some changes to address concerns about safety and disruptions at and surrounding the shelter, including having a paramedic on-site seven days a week, adding social worker and outreach worker positions and offering on-the-land programming.

The shelter has also seen exterior renovations with more to come, including the installation of a six-foot-tall fence along the west side of the building and the placement of high-backed benches out front to create a visual and physical barrier.

The plan includes a draft timeline for each of its key actions; several of them were to have been completed in May and June, including the creation of the implementation group, but McPhee described the timeframes as “guidelines.”

McPhee and Frost also both said it wasn’t for the government to commit to the community safety plan’s recommended actions, but for the implementation group, once established, to guide the work.

“All 26 recommendations and the actions going forward need to be reviewed by the implementation group,” McPhee said. “(The plan needs to be) assessed by that group of people who are the partners in developing that process in the first place … and then it’ll be up to that group how and what we need to achieve out of that list.”

The Yukon government has sent letters to Kwanlin Dün First Nation, Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and the City of Whitehorse, among others, and will be discussing things like the implementation group’s make-up with them.

The plan has a draft date of December 2020 to implement all the actions. Asked whether she thought that would be achievable, Frost said, “we can only hope, right?”

“But that means we need to bring our partners along and that’s the stage, to move along quickly to bring our partners back to the table,” she said.

Frost acknowledged that the situation at the shelter is “complex” and “new to all of us.”

“We’ve just recently taken (the shelter) over, we have (not had) a lot of experience doing this, we’ve learned a lot and I think the businesses have learned a lot as well,” she said.

The government, she continued, wants to see “them coexist well in that downtown core and that’s always our priority, and we’ll strive towards accomplishing that the best we can with the tools that we have available to us.”

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