Women leaving the Whitehorse jail who still need supervision and access to programming will soon have a new place to stay.
The newly-renovated Takhini Haven building, on the grounds of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, is tentatively set to accept its first resident at the end of March depending on staffing levels and demand. Non-profit Connective Support Society will run the facility, with funding from the territorial government and input from the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN).
The facility is the only halfway house in the Yukon for women transitioning through or out of the criminal justice system — for example, women out on bail or serving conditional sentences. Release plans commonly include a condition requiring the person to live at a specific address, among other things, but Yukon Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said women may not always have somewhere to go.
"There's often a different safety factor [for women] than there is for some men," McPhee said during a news conference and media tour at Takhini Haven on Wednesday.
"This residence, this programming will allow women who might otherwise be unsafe returning to their community, who are involved in the justice process, to be in a safe place and to start to address some of their concerns and issues in a way that will ultimately allow them, we hope, to… reintegrate into their communities."
McPhee also described the facility as the "first of its kind in the North," and said the government will be providing a total of just less than $1.2 million for the project up to the end of March 2024.
Takhini Haven will be Connective's fifth program in the Yukon. The group also runs a similar facility for men in Whitehorse that opened in 2020, replacing one that was operated by the Salvation Army.
Connective assistant regional director Gigi McKee said Wednesday that the non-profit is still hiring staff for Takhini Haven, but once operational, the facility will have 24-hour supervision and be able to house up to eight women.
"Our staff can assist residents to navigate obstacles in their path to community reintegration while providing targeted programming, support, advocacy and information on community resources as they work to achieve their self-identified goals," she said.
McKee added that Connective tried to create a home-like environment — there's a shared kitchen, dining table, living room and washrooms, while each woman will have her own bedroom — and will be working with CYFN to ensure First Nations women staying at Takhini Haven have culturally-appropriate support.
In a separate interview, CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers said the council has a good working relationship with Connective, having already partnered with it on other projects including the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.
"We recognize that Yukon First Nations and Indigenous women are over-represented in the criminal justice system," Chambers said, "so it's really important for CYFN and Yukon First Nations to be involved in this program."