Whitehorse business owner quotes big losses amid emergency shelter issues

Hans Oettli, who runs a pet store next door to the emergency shelter, says he's lost about $500,000 since the shelter opened in 2017.

Hans Oettli says his business lost about $500K since shelter opened in 2017

Hans Oettli has run Duffy's Pets in Whitehorse for 22 years. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Residents and business owners in downtown Whitehorse say they want action to cut down on public intoxication and violence around the city's emergency shelter.

The Yukon government took over the former Salvation Army Centre of Hope in January. Since then it has increased capacity at the shelter and adopted a "low-barrier model," which allows intoxicated people to stay there.

Several residents told councillors at a Monday city council meeting to hold off on a beautification project — landscaping on Alexander Street — until issues around the shelter are addressed.

"The sense that we're receiving from the citizens in the area has gone from compassion and empathy to a degree of fear and concern," Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis said.

'Insulted, bottles thrown at, spit at'

"The amount of activity going on here is outstanding and a lot of these people are intoxicated," said Hans Oettli, who's run Duffy's Pets for 22 years. 

His pet store is located next door to the emergency shelter on Alexander Street.

"Our customers get insulted, bottles thrown at [them], spit at, [sworn] at. And a lot of people simply don't want to come anymore."

I absolutely feel for the businesses.- Pauline Frost, Yukon minister of health and social services

Oettli estimated he's lost 35 per cent of his revenue and taken a 6-figure hit to his property value since the emergency shelter opened next door to his business in 2017 — "a huge financial impact," he said.

Oettli guessed that the total financial loss has been about $500,000. He added he had to lay off workers.

"It is a stress on us, stress on our employees," said Oettli. "We'd like some kind of security."

Oettli acknowledged that the shelter's users need helps, but suggested more patrols in the area to make sure customers and his employees feel safe.

A file photo of the Salvation Army Centre of Hope. The emergency shelter is now run by the territorial government. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Yukon government acknowledges there are problems. 

"I absolutely feel for the businesses," said Minister of Health and Social Services Pauline Frost.

"We have huge growing pains," said Frost. "The feedback is really essential to what we do from here. Hans and others in the area are giving us that."

Frost said the shelter building was built without a lot of thought into programming and how businesses in the vicinity were going to be impacted.

"We're finding some challenges."

Changes to exterior social space

Christine Tapp, the director of the social supports branch with the territory's Social Services Department, said she hopes to implement programming and outreach initiatives by the fall.

She said shelter staff will do hourly block patrols, pick up garbage, and check around the facility. 

Tapp says there will be renovations to the shelter's exterior design. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"[We're] trying to ensure that we are responsible neighbours," she said. 

Tapp added there will be renovations to the shelter's exterior design. 

"It's almost like it's unfinished," she said, citing a small, enclosed space in the back of the shelter that doesn't accommodate the volume of guests at the shelter.

"There's no intentional space where guests can sit and socialize [outside]," she said. 

Those renovations will take a year or longer, said Tapp.

Written by Priscilla Hwang, based on files from Chris Windeyer and Elyn Jones


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