Maple Ridge youth safe house at risk

(From left)  Tara Pozsonyi, Cheyenne Stebbe and Stephanie Ediger help run the Iron Horse Youth Safe House.  - Colleen Flanagan/The News
(From left) Tara Pozsonyi, Cheyenne Stebbe and Stephanie Ediger help run the Iron Horse Youth Safe House.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

People worried about the closing of Maple Ridge’s teen safe house because of changes to federal funding rules can relax – for a year.

New priorities under Ottawa’s Housing First program don’t kick in until 2015, said MP Randy Kamp.

Maple Ridge council heard Tuesday that the Iron Horse Youth Safe House could close its doors as soon as March 31.

The five-bed emergency shelter opened in 2005 and gives kids fleeing abuse or in trouble a safe place to go.

At the house, youth between 13 and 18 years old are connected with counselling so they can plan their lives while avoiding the dangers of the street.

Under the new Housing First approach, 65 per cent of money for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy must go to physical living spaces for people. Once housed, other services, such as counselling, are provided. That could mean money needed to operate an emergency shelter wouldn’t qualify.

But the new criteria don’t kick in until 2015-2016 fiscal year, Kamp said.

“The requirement to move towards that is not happening until next fiscal year. So for the 2014-15 fiscal year, the criteria are basically the same as they were in the last several years.”

And even when the new approach is in place, Maple Ridge could still apply for the remaining 35 per cent, although it would be competing with other agencies in Metro Vancouver.

Some agencies could even re-invent themselves in order to qualify under the new criteria.

“I think they do great work,” Kamp said. “If they do a good job, as I think they do, and have a compelling story to tell, then I would be hopeful that they would continue to be funded in the future.”

At Wednesday’s Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board meeting, chairman Mike Murray said the school district should work to keep the shelter open.

“Now’s the time to ask the questions and raise the issue.

“It’s a resource in this community that I know many people rely on,” he said, adding that without it, teens could potentially be living on the street – children as young as 13.

“How it would be replaced, I don’t know.”

Murray said the facility has been full since it opened, and serves teens throughout the region. The only similar shelter nearby is Vancouver’s Covenant House.

Stephanie Ediger, executive-director with the Alouette Home Start Society, said nothing’s definite yet and that the shelter could close as soon as this March 31.

Interim funding could be found to allow the shelter to reorganize and find new funding sources, she said.

The Iron Horse Youth House receives about $365,000 yearly from the Homelessness Partnership Strategy. That pays for most of the $375,000 the safe house needs a year to pay for two staff, operating costs and food for the five-bedroom home. Occupancy is usually at 80 per cent, she added.

“We’re committed to continuing to provide services to this population.”

But how that will be done isn’t known, she added.

Ediger said kids are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of the street, from crime, drug addiction or prostitution, or just keeping them from falling into the condition of homelessness.

“This is the time of life, if there’s not intervention, it’s like a fork in the road – you catch them before they fall to a place where it’s very difficult to get them back again.”

Homelessness can kill you, she added.

“Or set you up for a lifetime of chronic homelessness or instability,” Ediger said.

“There’s all sorts of terrible things that can happen.”

The District of Maple Ridge helped the shelter open by providing the house on district property, while volunteers and businesses pitched in with donations to get the house open.

“That will be a huge hole in the community if we lose that. You’ve got to pick your battles. This is something we can go to the wall on,” said Mayor Ernie Daykin.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie said B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development could take on responsibility, but doesn’t have the money.

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