Initiative aims to provide culturally-safe support for vulnerable First Nations people, improve safety
CBC Indigenous: The Council of Yukon First Nations is launching a mobile outreach van in downtown Whitehorse in a bid to offer more culturally-safe support for vulnerable Indigenous people in the community and to improve area safety.
Starting this week, a team of outreach staff will drive a branded “Moccasin Mobile Outreach” van along a designated route on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m., making stops at locations including the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, the Black Street stairs and several parks.
“Our service is really meant to ensure that people are not dying on the street, freezing and or being harmed,” Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) executive director Shadelle Chambers told media at a news conference Monday.
The initiative, a pilot project funded by the Yukon government until March 31, is part of a larger downtown safety action plan released by the territorial government late last year in response to growing concerns from residents and business owners.
Outreach staff on the van, who will also do foot patrols, will be trained to provide medical and mental health first aid, and administer naloxone. They’ll also have harm reduction supplies, snacks, hot drinks, hygiene products and basic clothing items like socks and toques to hand out and be able to refer people to other services including shelters, the RCMP or an ambulance.
Chambers said CYFN has coordinated with Blood Ties Four Directions, which operates its own outreach van, to avoid a duplication of services and is also “working closely” with the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, police and emergency medical services to meet community needs.
However, she emphasized that the Moccasin Mobile Outreach is a “grassroots” initiative that’s being led and staffed by First Nations and Indigenous people. “We know right now that Yukon First Nations and Indigenous people are over-represented in the homeless population … I think it’s really important that vulnerable populations see themselves reflected in the service,” Chambers said.
“I think it’s at times challenging and hard to quantify the importance of that, but seeing people that you know from the community, people understanding the realities and the historical traumas faced by Yukon First Nations and Indigenous people… that’s ultimately really important,” she added.
“You can’t train somebody to know community connections and family connections.”
Moccasin Mobile Outreach coordinator Phil Harry agreed. “I know a lot of Indigenous folks tend to connect a little easier with other Indigenous folks, so I think that’s going to benefit this program for sure,” he said.
Harry rode along on the Blood Ties outreach van as CYFN was shaping its own program to get an idea of the needs in the community, and who the van was servicing.
While he said the team handed out harm reduction supplies, other items were also in high demand. “A lot of times, people just need a warm drink and a muffin,” Harry said. “That seems to go a long way.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jackie Hong, Reporter
Jackie Hong is a reporter in Whitehorse. She was previously the courts and crime reporter at the Yukon News and, before moving North in 2017, was a reporter at the Toronto Star. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org