The Iron Horse Youth Safe House was there when Teesha Sharma needed it.
After fleeing difficulties at home, Sharma, 16, ended up at the doors of the youth shelter in central Maple Ridge.
“I had nowhere else to go,” she said. “I remember getting there and I was scared to death.”
The house took her in, gave her a place to sleep and food to eat, and offered a sympathetic ear and counselling.
“It was the first time I felt safe.”
Now she wants to ensure the shelter will be there for other kids and is holding a hot dog sale this Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., to raise some money and, more importantly, awareness.
Changes to federal funding under the Homelessness Partnering Strategy mean the five-bed shelter, open since 2005, could close in January.
It was the respite offered at the shelter that saved Sharma. Counsellors stayed with her when she was afraid to fall asleep.
“It gave me a chance to find me, because I got so squashed down.”
She learned that someone actually cared about her. When it was time to leave the shelter, after more than the usual month-long stay, staff helped her sign an agreement with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, allowing her to get her own apartment. She’s been there since, now seven years.
“It’s very hard to be 16 and, all of a sudden, you’re living on your own.”
Now, she’s about to graduate from a community support worker program at Discovery Community College so she, too, can help people in the same circumstances.
Sharma actually finished high school early.
“I graduated one and a half years early because I didn’t want to be at home, and so I would stay at school. And during the summer, I would take extra programs so I didn’t have to be at home. I was 16 when I graduated.”
It was a tough time for her.
“I think the last straw was I actually ended up trying to commit suicide because of it.”
Following Robin William’s suicide earlier this month, it’s common topic of discussion. Sharma, though, has her own view. Suicide isn’t about wanting to die, it’s about wanting the mental pain and anguish and whatever is going on in your head to stop, she said.
“It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” adds colleague Brittany Frye.
She, along with other students at Discovery Community College will be helping out with the hot dog sale.
Alouette Home Start Society executive-director Stephanie Ediger said the future of the safe house remains in doubt. Transitional funding is in place until December. Under the new policy, announced this earlier year, the society can’t apply for its main source of funding, which amounts to $360,000, because its focus on counselling and services, instead of simply providing housing, no longer qualifies under the Housing First strategy.
According to Employment and Social Development Canada, the implementation date for the new policy is April 1, 2015. After that, 65 per cent of Homelessness Partnering Strategy funds have to go to Housing First-type projects.
Housing First focuses on first moving chronically or temporarily homeless people from the streets and emergency shelters into permanent housing, then offering support for addictions and mental illnesses.
Housing First has been effective, Ediger said.
“You need to make sure there are sufficient resources to provide the support,” for the people who now have a roof over their heads.
The Alouette Home Start Society is now looking to the Ministry of Children and Families for funding to keep the youth safe house open.
“I think it’s a reasonable request to make of the province,” said Ediger.
The renovated house has five beds and kids between 13 and 18 years old can stay for up to a month.
If the society does close, she added the society will continue to seek partnerships to provide the money to allow it to re-open.
“We’re still in danger of closing. Just a couple more months of grace.”