“It can be a bed for a night or it can be support for the future.”
At a ceremony held last Friday, Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost summed up much of the role the new Salvation Army Centre of Hope facility at Fourth Avenue and Alexander Street will have in the community.
It will begin welcoming those who need a bed and a warm meal at the end of the month.
While Oct. 30 will mark the first date the centre will be open, the official ribbon-cutting was held Friday morning. Tours were offered to the large crowd that had come out for the event.
The facility will offer 25 emergency beds along with another 20 transitional apartments that are set to open around the end of November.
It was a standing-room-only crowd of about 80 who turned out for the event in the large dining room space which can ultimately sit up to 150 people for a meal.
The current building, also on Fourth Avenue at Black Street, seats about 40 people.
The dining room is one part of the main floor that is set to offer drop-in and community programs for clients.
Ian McKenzie, the local Salvation Army’s executive director, pointed out that with a dining room that is separate from two common rooms on the main floor, those coming in to the centre won’t have to leave the building when staff are cleaning up the dining room, as they do now.
Throughout Friday’s opening, McKenzie praised the numerous partners involved in the project, including the territorial and federal governments, which provided funding.
Under the Investment in Affordable Housing program, Ottawa and the territory contributed $1.1 million along with another $3 million from the Northern Housing Trust.
The Yukon government also contributed $10.2 million toward the purchase of the property, design and construction.
“The government has been an important partner in all that has gone on,” McKenzie said.
He pointed out that discussions around the building of a new shelter began in 2012.
While the building had originally been scheduled to open last year, work was delayed due to contaminated soil on the site, given that it had once accommodated a vehicle dealership and repair shop. Work had to be done to remediate the soil before construction could begin.
The excitement in the community over the ribbon-cutting and the centre’s impending opening to those who need a place to stay and/or a warm meal was evident in the crowd who had gathered there.
As Yukon MP Larry Bagnell pointed out, it’s not often there’s a crowd that large or with so many community leaders at such events.
“This is a very exciting day,” he said, describing the facility as “much-needed”.
As the building’s name suggests, he noted, it will be a source of “comfort and hope” to those in need.
Bagnell also highlighted federal investments in a variety of housing initiatives before congratulating all those involved with the project and wishing well those who will use the services at the facility.
Premier Sandy Silver also reflected on the years of work that have gone into developing the new facility, noting the Army’s “long-time and important presence in our territory,” and congratulating the organization on “a job well-done.”
McKenzie emphasized that the building is only the beginning. There are plans to work alongside Health and Social Services to ensure those coming into the facility have access to a range of programs available in the community.
Frost said she already sees stronger partnerships forming as the facility gets set to open.
“It will be life-changing for a lot of people in our community,” she said.
Also on hand for the ribbon-cutting was Cpl. Lee Graves, the Salvation Army’s chief secretary for Canada, who highlighted the thought and care that went into the design of the building.
“It’s an incredible space that will bring that important dignity and lift to all who might enter through the doors,” he said.
Graves later noted it will be a place where those in need can plan their next steps in life and build the skills they need.
The walls of the building were empty, but as McKenzie said, the organization is hoping it will be filled with artwork that will reflect the culture and community.
Peter Johnston, the Council of Yukon First Nations’ grand chief, presented the Salvation Army with the first piece of artwork for its walls – a carving entitled “The Healing Spirit” by Jared Kane, a Ta’an Kwäch’än artist.
“Unfortunately, most of the people that are going to utilize this facility are going to be our people,” Johnston said.
He stressed the importance of recognizing First Nations culture and spirituality. “We want our people to succeed and move on.”
McKenzie said Kane’s piece will be featured in a place of honour.
Before the ribbon was officially snipped, McKenzie also praised the contractors and architects for their work on the building.
Following the formal ceremony, McKenzie and other officials showed visitors around the facility – first on the main level.
After showcasing the dining room and kitchen along with the two common rooms where people can drop in to sit, read or make use of some of the board games and the like, he showed off the front desk.
It’s there that a staffer will be on-hand through the day to help direct those coming in based on their needs. Some may just need a warm meal, while others might want a bed for the night.
A small office will be available for a case worker to meet with clients and better determine what longer-term services they might need.
As McKenzie said, while the facility will provide meals and a place to stay, other services throughout the community may be required to help clients over the long-term.
The case worker will help connect clients with other agencies in the community, including helping them find longer-term housing.
Another room in the building will also help serve as a resource space with computers and printers. McKenzie noted those at the facility can use them to check email, work on résumés and so on.
On the second floor are small hallways that lead to dorm-style rooms, each with three or four beds and a locker for each.
“It adds a level of security,” McKenzie said.
Many who stay at the shelter don’t want to leave their things out in the open and have to carry them around, he pointed out. This will give them a space to lock up their things, with the Salvation Army providing locks for each.
There are two stand-alone rooms for those who are transgender or may not be comfortable sleeping in either a male or female dorm-style room.
The stand-alone rooms will also be available to those who may be ill and require more privacy.
A total of 20 emergency beds are available to men, with five available to women with the two areas separate from one another.
Each dorm room includes a washroom with a barrier-free shower.
McKenzie acknowledged it’s a “real challenge” to deal with bedbugs. Work has been done to address that, with protectors on the beds as well as material that prevents bedbugs from getting into the walls.
On the off-chance they do, there’s material in the walls designed to kill the pests.
Finally, on the top levels are the transitional housing units – 10 available on one level for men and 10 on the other level for women.
A laundry room, lounge and larger kitchen are featured on each level along with the self-contained units that include a bathroom, bed and small kitchenette.
As McKenzie said, the larger kitchen will be used in efforts to help teach tenants life-skills: food preparation, cooking, washing and drying dishes and so on.
“Part of the intent is to equip people with the life skills to be a good tenant,” he said.
He noted it’s expected many will live in the transitional units for up to a year, though it is a new model, and that may change, depending on how things go.
It will be long enough for tenants to build up the skills and financial history they may need with phone companies and the like to move on to more permanent housing down the road.
The facility will have about 20 people on staff, a slight increase over the staffing levels the current shelter has. McKenzie noted staff will have more of a specific focus at the new facility.
It’s anticipated the facility will cost approximately $2 million to operate each year.
Health and Social Services spokeswoman Pat Living stressed that’s a “ballpark” figure, and the precise costs will become more clear over the first year.
The Yukon government will fund 59 per cent of the costs to operate, with the Salvation Army putting in 35 per cent and the federal government chipping in the final six per cent.
Once the new facility is in full operation, McKenzie said, the Salvation Army will sell the current shelter.