A second warming centre will open in Whitehorse to help keep those in need out of the cold. On Jan. 30, Yukon government announced it will open a warming centre pilot project in the old cafeteria at its main administration building, the Jim Smith building, from March 18 to May 1.
The announcement comes just days after the non-profit Safe at Home Society said it was operating a warming centre at the former High Country Inn building, which is now being used as a temporary housing project.
The government-run warming centre will be operated by the Department of Health and Social Services and highways and public works.
It will be open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will offer computer and internet access, snacks, beverages, harm reduction supplies, period products and washroom facilities.
The centre will be staffed by two onsite workers as well as an outreach worker from the Whitehorse public library while the building is closed temporarily for carpet installation from March 25 to April 1.
A news release states an estimated $30,000 has been budgeted for setup costs and $20,000 for salaries.
The centre is part of the government’s downtown community safety plan.
It’s currently looking at ways to de-centralize services at the Whitehorse emergency shelter following complaints by business owners and community members who say they’ve been impacted by disturbances and crimes caused by shelter users.
Stephen Doyle, director of social supports, said the service is meant to function as a “drop-in” centre for people who frequent the Whitehorse public library and need somewhere to go while the building is closed.
“We know there’s a group of dedicated people who attend the library for things like the internet and such, so certainly we anticipate some of those folks will head over here,” he said.
Doyle said the government-run centre will differ from the one operated by Safe at Home as it will only be open weekdays during daytime hours. The Safe at Home operated centre, which is also funded by Yukon government, is open Thursdays to Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. until late March.
Kate Meechan, executive director for Safe at Home, said in an interview with APTN News last week that its centre had received few visitors.
Doyle said it’s hard to say whether or not there is a community need for warming centres in downtown Whitehorse.
“The intent is to see,” he said. “We certainly plan to learn from it and as we go into next winter we want to make sure we have some really concrete plans as to how we’re going to make sure we’re supporting people in Whitehorse around warming and drop-in and things like that.”
Following the centre’s closure in May, the government will conduct an evaluation to assess its viability and impact.
According to a point-in-time count led by Safe at Home last April, 197 people in Whitehorse were experiencing homelessness, 90 per cent of which were Indigenous.