The first Indigenous-led shelter for Indigenous women and children will open its doors in Whistle Bend.
The plans were outlined at an Aug. 17 press conference where the transfer of land from the Yukon government to the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) for the shelter was announced.
CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston said the project has been in the works for more than a year.
The building on Eldorado Drive will feature 15 apartments (32 beds) and a total floor space of 15,069 square feet. The shelter will have high and lower barrier areas to safely meet the needs of women with children and women who require more supports.
As Johnston explained, one of the barriers women may face at other shelters is that they can not access the shelter if they are intoxicated.
He said the shelter will have a five-bed low-barrier wing, where women can be admitted even if under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“This is an opportunity for us to kind of change the way sheltering services are delivered,” CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers said. “We are already talking about what low barrier means. It means meeting women and children where they’re at with those supports and services.”
Chambers also pointed to a gap analysis which found many of the current shelters in the territory are full. There’s a clear need for more beds, she said.
Johnston highlighted the cultural features and programming planned, noting CYFN wants people to feel at home.
A workshop where fish and food are processed is one aspect envisioned and there are plans for gathering spaces outside, including a fire pit.
“I think if we want to create these places where we not only see ourselves, but also are able to feel supported and somewhat at ease, especially when dealing with violence situations, I think is what we’re really trying to do here,” he said.
The project will be funded through the federal Indigenous shelter and transitional housing initiative. The Yukon government transferred the land, valued at $250,000, to CYFN for $1.
The site had been used as a community garden, but with a new lease signed between the city of Whitehorse and the Whistle Bend Garden Society, a new garden area will be set up off of Keno Way.
Energy, Mines and Resources Minister John Streicker pointed to the generosity of the community in making the project happen, noting the garden society offered to move when it learned of the efforts underway for the shelter.
Streicker noted the benefits of the location with nearby amenities such as a playground, trails, the planned Whistle Bend elementary school and more.
Ranj Pillai, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, said the site was chosen as it already has the required zoning in place and is ready for development, all of which “will help ensure a timely opening for this much-needed facility.”
“I’m convinced that this project will have a positive impact throughout the community and will contribute to our territorial vision of supporting healthy, thriving communities,” he said, after noting the land transfer signifies the ability for CYFN to create a safe, accessible shelter for Indigenous women and children.
The tender for the shelter is expected to be released early next year, with a 2024 opening envisioned.
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