CYFN to build Indigenous-led women and children's shelter in Whitehorse

·4 min read
Ranj Pillai, minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, John Streicker, minister responsible for Energy, Mines and Resources, and CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston, at a news conference Wednesday.  (Mike Rudyk/CBC - image credit)
Ranj Pillai, minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, John Streicker, minister responsible for Energy, Mines and Resources, and CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston, at a news conference Wednesday. (Mike Rudyk/CBC - image credit)

A new women and children's shelter will be built in the Yukon.

On Wednesday, the territorial government and the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) announced that a chunk of land in Whitehorse will be transferred to the council to build the territory's first Indigenous-led shelter.

"This land transfer signifies the ability for CYFN to create a safe and accessible shelter for Indigenous women and children experiencing violence," said Ranj Pillai, minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation.

He said the lot, located in Whistle Bend, was specifically picked because it's zoned and ready for development, which Pillai said "will help ensure a timely opening for this much needed facility."

"I'm convinced that this project will have a positive impact throughout the community and will contribute to our territorial vision of supporting healthy, thriving communities," he said.

John Streicker, minister responsible for Energy, Mines and Resources, said the lot is on Eldorado Drive in Whistle Bend, at the corner of Casca Boulevard.

"It's really close to amenities like playgrounds, like walking trails, like the town hall and the upcoming Whistle Bend school," Streicker said. "It's a great location."

15 apartments, 32 beds

Streicker said the lot is about the size of the 10 lots across the street, or about two-thirds of a hectare. The shelter is set to have 15 apartments, with 32 beds and a total floor space of 15,069 square feet.

The Whistle Bend Community Garden Coalition had a lease for that land, but offered it up when they heard the territory and CYFN were looking for a lot for the project, Streicker said. The land was transferred from the territory for $1 to CYFN.

Sissi De Flaviis/CBC
Sissi De Flaviis/CBC

Grand Chief Peter Johnston said the shelter is a project that CYFN has been working on for over a year now.

"It's a pleasure now to see it come into fruition," Johnston said, adding the need for this shelter is high.

"We're facing an extreme reality when it comes to violence and a lot of it unfortunately goes unreported."

He said the shelter will have a low barrier aspect, where women will have the opportunity to be admitted even if under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

"I think it's important that we can take people in regardless of what situation they're in."

Shadelle Chambers, executive director of CYFN, said five beds at the shelter will be dedicated to the low-barrier wing.

"It was very clear in that gap analysis that many of the current shelters are continually full and there is a need for more additional beds," Chambers said.

"Some of the policies and some of the existing shelters are high barrier. So if women are currently intoxicated or using substances, some shelters do not allow them to stay."

'Wet workshop,' fire pit and other culturally relevant aspects

Johnston said the space will be culturally appropriate meaning the environment will aim to help people feel at home and offer a sense of comfort.

Much of that is sensory, including smell — "dare I say, the smell of home-tanned moosehide," Johnston said.

Chambers said CYFN wants to incorporate a "wet workshop" where they envision fish and food being processed. As well, there's plans for gathering spaces outside, including a fire pit.

Mike Rudyk/CBC
Mike Rudyk/CBC

"This is an opportunity for us to kind of change the way sheltering services are delivered. So we are already talking about what does low barrier mean," she said. "It means meeting women and children where they're at with those supports and services"

Johnston said the environment of the shelter is a key part of the project, adding that some spaces in the territory lack cultural aspects.

"When you look at our school in Teslin, the only thing that is First Nation about that school is the kids," he said.

"I think if we want to create these places where we not only see ourselves ... but also are able to feel supported and somewhat at ease, especially when you're dealing with violence situations … I think is what we're really trying to do here."

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is funding the shelter through its Indigenous Shelter and Transitional Housing Initiative, according to the Yukon government. This shelter was one of two projects in the North that was funded in the 2020 call for proposals.

The territory said CYFN will lead the construction and operation of the shelter. The tendering process is expected to happen in early 2023, with the hopes of occupancy by summer of 2024.