Whitehorse bakery temporarily closing due to concerns about downtown shelter

Alpine Bakery owners Silvia and Walter Streit say a shelter in downtown Whitehorse is preventing them from running their businesses.

The owners of a popular Whitehorse bakery are temporarily closing their business due to disturbances caused by clientele at a nearby shelter.

The Alpine Bakery, owned by Walter Streit and his wife Silvia, is next door to the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.

“It affects us in a business-ruining way,” Walter told APTN News. “Customers are complaining; customers with children are feeling unsafe.”

The couple purchased the bakery in 2015. At that time, the shelter was at another location.

In 2017, the shelter moved to its current location, a site chosen by the former Yukon Party government. In 2019, its operation was transferred to the Liberal government. In October 2022, it changed hands yet again to the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and Vancouver-based non-profit Connective.

While CYFN focuses on cultural programming at the shelter, Connective is responsible for day-to-day operations, which continues to be paid for by the Yukon government.

Streit takes issue with the shelter’s location and how it’s being managed.

Security footage shared with APTN shows people openly consuming drugs, punching the bakery’s entrance, trespassing, and committing sex acts in a downstairs doorway.

Alpine Bakery owners Silvia and Walter Streit are hopeful a temporary closure will send the message action is needed when it comes to the shelter. Photo: Sara Connors/APTN

“Every morning someone is cleaning up,” Walter said. “Several times, we’ve had drug dealing on our (property) – so illegal actions. Trespassing – if somebody doesn’t find the toilet he goes behind the fence.”

As the pair lives above the bakery, they say the constant noise and disruptions that occur during nighttime hours have only heightened their stress.

The owners feel the only solution they have is to close their business until there are drastic changes.

The announcement was met with an outpouring of support on social media.

“We love it, it’s our baby,” Walter said. “We don’t want to let it die, so we said ‘OK, (it’s) one last chance for the government to make improvements for the shelter.”

Safety concerns

The Streits aren’t alone.

According to a recent report by consulting agency House of Wolf, 16 of 18 business owners reported financial impacts caused by the shelter like vandalism, theft, loss of revenue and decreasing property values.

Ben Eisele, manager of All-West Glass across from the shelter, said he has “massive concerns” about it.

Eisele said multiple employees have been assaulted, company property has been stolen, and the store recently had to go into lockdown after a shelter user wielded a machete outside.

Eisele said as the store’s chief safety officer he’s tried to relay his concerns to the shelter.

“(We) have made attempts to contact (the shelter) three times directly messaging the manager of Connective,” he said. (They’ve) completely ignored us and, as far as we know, not made any changes to the safety concerns.”

Eisele said the company has purchased expensive fencing in hopes it will help protect the business and its employees.

Whitehorse Emergency Shelter
Local businesses and residents say they’re concerned about the shelter on Alexander St. Photo Vincent Bonnay/APTN

Wayne Emery, a resident living close to the shelter, said shelter users are sleeping on his property because it’s too dangerous for them to stay there.

Now considered a low-barrier shelter, he thinks the building should return to high barrier as it was originally intended under the Salvation Army.

“All they’re doing is study after study,” he said. “Go back to high barrier. Go back to what it was supposed to be and I think it would at least help.”

‘Complex’ situation

No one from Connective was available for an interview about the local business community’s concerns.

Kim Pettersen, Connective’s director of external communications, said in an email statement the organization was “disappointed” to hear the bakery would be temporarily closing.

“We know that these issues have been going on for many years, and we understand the frustration of local businesses and residents,” she said.

“Recognizing that these are complex issues that require a collaborative response from the community, we are committed to continuing to work with partners – including Yukon Government, RCMP, City of Whitehorse, CYFN and the Chamber of Commerce – to explore solutions to community safety issues as well as opportunities to add to the housing continuum to better serve the many different needs of people experiencing homelessness.”

The temporary closure also caught the attention of Premier Ranj Pillai, who addressed the situation in a letter to the Streits last week.

“With respect to the unique situation around 405 Alexander, as I’m sure you can understand, it is a complex one. Many members of the Whitehorse community rely on the shelter and its services,” he said.

“Members of the government of the day have acknowledged that the placement of the shelter was not ideal. We have received two independent reports that offer recommendations on how to improve 405 Alexander’s safety and effectiveness, and are working collaboratively with CYFN and Connective to implement their recommendations.”

Those reports, including the one from House of Wolf, found the shelter was meeting the basic needs of clients and was also cost-effective.

It notes that 41 per cent of shelter users are Indigenous, a number it said was likely higher as it did not rely on government statistics.

But they also noted vulnerable populations like women can feel unsafe staying there and that the shelter is not a conducive environment for those in recovery.

The reports make several recommendations, like dismantling large group concentrations outside the shelter and decentralizing services throughout Whitehorse.

It’s something Walter Streit would like to see, as well as an increased RCMP presence outside the shelter.

Despite the report’s recommendations, he feels little has been done to address the situation.

“We get one steady promise after the other and nothing happens…We want big changes, and not just spending millions to keep it running a certain way,” he said.

“There has to be (action), not just talking. There has to be shown actions, otherwise, (it’ll) ruin us.”

The Streits plan to temporarily close their bakery on Oct. 7.

While the premier recently met with the couple and personally promised to find solutions, Walter said he doesn’t have high hopes for the bakery’s future.

“Maybe it’s too late for the bakery…we do not see that our concerns overall are (being) taken on seriously.”

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