A long and lonely trip from Maple Ridge to safety

THSS student starts campaign to fund Iron Horse Youth Safe House

The trip was scary enough, even though Lynden Meadus had his wits about him, a cellphone and his mom knew what he was up to.

It was dark and rainy night and the Grade 9 Thomas Haney secondary student was trying to take a bus from Maple Ridge to a youth shelter in North Vancouver. He said he just had a fight at home, didn’t know where to go and stopped in at the Greg Moore Youth Centre in the downtown about 9 p.m. Staff did their best and didn’t want him to leave, but eventually, with something of a bus route to follow, he was referred to the safe house in North Vancouver.

By the time he’d reached Coquitlam Centre, around midnight, the buses were finishing up their routes. He could have continued on to the bus exchange in Burnaby, but by then the buses would have stopped running and he’d be stranded in Burnaby overnight.

So instead, he stayed in Coquitlam, facing an empty, rainy parking lot, the buses all gone and nowhere to go.

While the story was made up, the ordeal was real.

Meadus created the story to ask the question: if you’re a teen in Maple Ridge, alone and frightened and you can’t go home – where do you go now that the Iron Horse Youth Safe House is no longer an emergency shelter?

When the shelter was open, a kid in trouble needing a place for the night would have been at the safe house within 15 minutes.

Instead, he said the trip to a North Vancouver safe house took six hours.

Hundreds of others teens who actually need help would face the same predicament. They’d have to leave town for either the emergency shelter in North Vancouver or another in Abbotsford.

With no bus service between Maple Ridge and Abbotsford, the North Van shelter was the only option.

He added that unless the Ministry of Children and Family Development has a file open on a youth, which means a taxi can be used for transportation, “it’s public transit, that’s your option.”

Because he had a cellphone, he was able to call the emergency shelter in North Vancouver and a worker from there actually drove out to pick him up. The worker had never been to Coquitlam before.

But what if he had no phone?

What if he had no support and the fight he had was real and he was traumatized?

“The reality is, you could have been stranded there and it’s not a safe place at all,” Meadus said.

“A kid who has had a fight with their parents, who actually doesn’t have a place to go for the night, just makes it 10 times worse.”

Meadus’s interest in saving the shelter was combined with a school assignment crossing several subject lines. He wants the Iron Horse shelter to reopen so kids in trouble here can get quick access to food, shelter, rest and counselling.

“Yes, my mom let me do it – what every other kid in our community is now going to do,” he said.

In other words, any kid who’s actually seeking shelter will have to go through that ordeal.

Meadus recorded much of his trip on video to show exactly what the experience was like.

But he wasn’t done there.

With the video as back-up, he visited local MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton, as well as MP Randy Kamp and asked them about the closure of the youth emergency shelter.

Jan. 31 was the last day for the emergency shelter function of the Iron Horse Youth Safe House because it lost its annual federal funding of $360,000.

Meadus listened to what the politicians had to say and recorded their responses.

Then he showed them the video of the journey. Facial expressions changed when they saw the video, he said.

“Some mouths actually dropped.”

The whole purpose was to get their answers about the closure of the shelter and what would happen to kids who needed help, “then show them what actually happened,” added his mom, Chelsa Meadus.

Kamp said “I’ve always said I’ve appreciated the work of the Iron Horse, I’ve never doubted that,” Kamp said, adding that most cities don’t have youth emergency shelters.

He reiterated that the Ministry of Children and Family Development is the “obvious source of funds for a shelter that targets children and youth.”

Kamp said that addressing homelessness has to be a collaborative effort.

“No one agency or government department can do it.”

He also said that Alouette Home Start Society, which runs the safe house, could re-apply for the next round of federal funding, if it adjusted its service model, to accord with Housing First programs or it could apply for the portion of money that’s still available for emergency shelter programs.

Lynden Meadus is still working on the complete video and has created a gofundme account to collect donations and wants to continue to raise awareness. The goal is to raise $360,000 to re-open the shelter for a year.

“If there’s anything that’s going to re-open Iron Horse or fix the system, this should be it,” he said.

And if Iron Horse doesn’t re-open, at least a better way can be found to get kids to a safe place.

“You shouldn’t have to take a three-hour bus ride,” he said, “be stuck at Coquitlam Centre and then wait another two hours just to get a ride out there.”

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