Yukon premier promises change in Whitehorse shelter after bakery closure

Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai says his government is rolling out a number of initiatives to combat concerns about the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.

A downtown safety outreach initiative, improved garbage collection and dismantling after-hour gatherings are some of the new initiatives Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai says will soon be coming to the downtown core in an effort to address concerns regarding the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.

Pillai’s government has faced criticism in recent weeks over the temporary closure of Alpine Bakery, located just metres from the shelter.

The bakery’s owners, Walter and Silvia Streit, said they would be temporarily closing their bakery for the foreseeable future due to issues and disturbances caused by shelter clientele.

Last week, Pillai released a statement listing the actions his government would take to address the situation, including working with the Council of Yukon First Nations to develop a downtown safety outreach initiative similar to Winnipeg’s Bear Clan Patrol by the end of this month.

Other actions include removing privacy benches outside the shelter to dissuade users from gathering; working with the city of Whitehorse to improve garbage collection; addressing outside and after-hours gatherings by non-shelter users and providing alternate locations for food services.

Other work in the short-term will include a managed alcohol program, and construction and maintenance of public washroom facilities.

“Our government is committed to working towards a solution on behalf of those we were elected to represent. That means balancing the needs of citizens to access low-barrier essential services with the rights of those living in the downtown core,” Pillai said in a statement.

Despite promises from Pillai, the Streits said they’re not convinced.

Walter Streit told APTN News on Oct. 10 that since the privacy benches were torn down, shelter users have since migrated to a new spot with a tent directly across from the bakery.

He said he would need to see drastic changes before he would be comfortable reopening his business.

“Politicians talk big and do little,” he said.

Yukon government criticized

Meanwhile, the government was lambasted in the legislature last week by the Yukon Party and NDP who criticized the government’s lack of urgency to address growing concerns from nearby residents and business owners.

“There has been a lot of talk, a lot of promises, and no change on the ground. Residents, business owners, and shelter users are all being left to struggle on their own,” said Yukon NDP MLA Lane Tredger, whose riding encompasses the downtown core.

“Over the last five years, after report after report after report has come out on how to make the shelter work better for everyone involved, we have asked when action would be taken. The answer has been nothing but silence, and in the meantime, the situation has reached a boiling point.”

Yukon Party MLA and critic for Health and Social Services Brad Cathers was also quick to point fingers.

“It has become clear to everyone but the Liberal government that what’s happening now is really not working, and deeper change to how the shelter is run is needed,” he said.

Pillai said it was “unfair” for health and social services to be the sole department responsible for the shelter’s file, and that the next steps would need to include a multi-department approach.

Pillai also admitted he should have acted on the file sooner.

“As a politician and as a leader, I should have been on this file with other members of our community — sitting with them, not just going to meetings, which I did,” he said.

“I feel like I should have supported my (health and social services) minister better and I should have done a better job.”

Contribute Button