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Council of Yukon First Nations plans to open shelter for Indigenous women and children in Whitehorse

A drawing of building plans for the proposed Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN)  shelter in Whitehorse. CYFN says the 32-bed shelter will support Indigenous women and children and provide 24-hour wraparound supports. (Submitted by Council of Yukon First Nations - image credit)
A drawing of building plans for the proposed Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) shelter in Whitehorse. CYFN says the 32-bed shelter will support Indigenous women and children and provide 24-hour wraparound supports. (Submitted by Council of Yukon First Nations - image credit)

The Council of Yukon First Nations is planning to build a new shelter in Whitehorse's Whistle Bend neighbourhood, specifically for Indigenous women and children.

Shadelle Chambers, executive director of the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN), presented the plans to Whitehorse city council on Monday evening.

In her presentation, Chambers noted there isn't an Indigenous-led women's shelter in Whitehorse.

"We recognize and know that Kaushee's [Place] has been in operation for a number of years, and is named after an Indigenous woman and serves a lot of Indigenous women as clients," Chambers said. "However, it is not Indigenous-led."

The plan is to build a one-storey facility with 15 supportive housing units, or 32 beds. The shelter would have both a high-barrier section, for women with children, and a low-barrier section.

"We recognize right now that there are shelters that don't allow for women who might be experiencing homelessness specifically, or mental health or addictions challenges," Chambers told CBC News. "So we've developed five units to address that."

Mike Rudyk/CBC
Mike Rudyk/CBC

There will also be common areas for programming space in the facility, and 24-hour wraparound supports available on site.

The shelter will be designed for temporary stays, Chambers explained, and though the exact length of stay is yet to be determined, it will likely be less that 90 days.

Need in the community

Michelle Parsons, executive director of the Yukon Women's Transition Home, says more shelter beds in the city would be welcome.

The transition home runs Kaushee's Place, which currently has 15 beds for women and children fleeing violence or abuse. Parsons said there's so much demand for beds that the shelter is sometimes operating at 150 to 200 per cent capacity.

"We're often double-bunking women who we offer services to with each other," Parsons said. "There's definitely a need in the community. That number is just steadily increasing."

Kaushee's Place provides temporary housing, and Parsons said the intended length of stay is 30 days. But, she said, the organization is frequently getting requests for extensions because there aren't enough permanent housing options in Whitehorse for clients to transition into. Parsons says the shelter tries to accommodate those requests when it can.

Sofia Ashley, executive director of the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, said her organization sees the need for more shelter space every day.

CBC
CBC

"We see people falling through the cracks all the time," she said. "People need somewhere safe to go when they're in an emergency situation. They need somewhere safe and calm to be when they're rebuilding their lives after they've lost everything."

Federal funding to cover bulk of project

CYFN is receiving funding for the project through an initiative between the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and Indigenous Services Canada.

Funding from CMHC, which amounts to $9.28 million, will help cover capital costs. Indigenous Services Canada will put in $1.22 million in annual operating and maintenance costs.

The Yukon government has already donated a parcel of the land for the project, which is located on Eldorado Drive in the Whistle Bend neighborhood.

CYFN is also looking to other sources, like Jordan's Principle and the Yukon Department of Health and Social Services, to help cover additional operations and maintenance costs, Chambers said.

The hope is to open the shelter for occupancy in summer 2024. CYFN has issued a public tender for the project.

Request to city

CYFN has also applied to the City of Whitehorse for development incentives for the project.

Those include a waiver of development costs and a grant to help cover taxes on the building for ten years. Additionally, CYFN has requested a cash grant for over $88,000 from the city to help cover other permitting and inspection fees.

City staff have recommended approving the incentives, but suggested the city provide $20,000 in grant money, not the $88,000 requested. $20,000 is the maximum amount available for non-profit housing incentives.

Council will vote on the funding request on Monday.