Yukon legislature passes motion to conduct review of organization that operates emergency shelter in Whitehorse

Yukon’s minister of health and social services commits to review

Yukon MLA’s have unanimously passed a motion urging the Liberal government to do an in-depth review on Connective, the non-profit organization that operates the Whitehorse emergency shelter.

Last month, a three week inquest examined the deaths of four First Nations women who died while accessing services at the shelter, two of whom died under Connective’s watch.

The inquest found there was a lack of training for frontline Connective staff and inconsistent policies and procedures.

Yukon NDP MLA Annie Blake, who tabled the motion Wednesday, said her party has received “a high number of concerns” about Connective’s programs and services.

“My intent is not to make Connective to look like they’re doing a bad job,” she told APTN News. “My focus is that when there’s issues, serious issues happening that are having a direct impact on the quality of lives and on the lives of people who access these services, that should be enough to call for a review to happen.”

One of the recommendations from the inquest includes a government led review to ensure Connective is in compliance with other recommendations within six months.

Blake said the hope is that the NDP’s motion will ensure a review is completed sooner than that.

She said the NDP has heard from many people who say they don’t feel safe at the shelter, instead choosing to sleep in tents, vehicles or couches.

In addition to the shelter, Connective also operates Housing First, a low barrier housing service, and SHARP, a halfway house program on the grounds of the Whitehorse correctional centre.

Government commits to review

Yukon NDP MLA Annie Blake is concerned about non-profit Connective’s programs and services. She tabled a motion on Wednesday for a government-led review of the organzation. Photo: Sara Connors/APTN News

McPhee said she had “no issue” with launching a review.

“I will commit that we will do such work,” she said.

Connective took over daily operations of the shelter from Yukon government in the fall of 2022 through a transfer payment agreement. The government continues to fund the shelter through the agreement.

McPhee explained the government is legally obligated to review non-governmental organizations that it has transfer payments agreements with.

She said stringent review processes are already in place and that work had already been started in relation to some programs at the shelter.

“We were properly awaiting the coroner’s inquest recommendations. We have them (now),” she said.

The government’s transfer payment agreement with Connective is set to expire in 2025. McPhee said the government will decide at that time whether or not to move forward with Connective’s services.

‘Extra layer of accountability’

Whitehorse Emergency Shelter
The Whitehorse Emergency Shelter in downtown Whitehorse. :Photo Vincent Bonnay/APTN

Lane Tredger, an NDP MLA whose riding includes the shelter, said Connective has “very little experience running emergency shelters.”

“They actually only are involved with one other emergency shelter that has a very different model and is only open seasonally. Even with that, they have only been running shelters since 2021, so three years or less,” Tredger said.

Kate White, leader of the Yukon NDP, said Connective will receive close to $6 million this year for programming.

“Really, what we are asking is that Yukon government ensure that the money that they are spending … is doing what we anticipate it to do,” she said. “We are just asking for an extra layer of accountability.”

A spokesperson for Connective said in a statement it’s “deeply committed to taking action to improve our programs and services. Given that the Inquest only ended a week ago, and that this motion passed only (Wednesday), we need more time to ensure we are taking measured and thorough action, together with our funders and partners.

“We recognize that reviews are an important part of our programming, and we welcome these opportunities to work with our funders and partners to gain additional insight into how we can best deliver the programs and services the community needs.”

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