A plea to the public to help keep the youth safe house open has been heard by two businessman who are putting up half the cash.
Barj Dhahan and Gurtek Shoker, owners of local Tim Horton’s franchises, are offering $12,500 to keep the safe house running another month, providing other groups or individuals can work together and come up with the same amount.
If that total of $25,000 is added to the $5,000 the Iron Horse Youth Safe House has already raised, the house would have enough money to stay open until Jan. 31.
Dhahan, who owns the two Tim Hortons on Dewdney Trunk Road at 232nd and 248th streets, gave a cheque for $5,000 on Dec. 23 and is ready to give the other $7,500 when that’s matched in the community.
“You can’t have a place close down in a week and I don’t know how many youth need a home. Where are they going to go?
“When there are needs that all of a sudden pop up, those of us who are touched by it, even if it’s a dollar, it all adds up.”
Even if 3,000 people in Maple Ridge gave $10 a month the house could keep operating, he added. Businesses and government and community groups can all pitch in.
“It multiplies. When many come together with something small, it grows. I think that’s what Christmas is all about.”
The multiplier effect may already be working.
Maple Ridge realtor Adrian Keenan heard of Dhahan’s challenge and started making phone calls to his colleagues.
“We’ve already raised, in less than a day, $2,000,” he said prior to Christmas.
Since the safe house opened in 2005, 1,100 youth have been through its doors where they receive counselling and get help with life planning, crisis intervention, personal issues or mediation – so they can reconnect with family.
Helping just one youth has a mulitiplier effect of about 20, because of the positive effects on other people, said Alouette Home Start Society president Marika Sandrelli.
The society operates the safe house.
She said people have asked why the safe house doesn’t just operate as a shelter, but Sandrelli said she wants the house to help kids get back on track by providing a range of services..
Iron Horse lost this year most of the $375,000 it needs yearly because of a change in federal funding. Funding extensions have allowed it to stay open for the balance of the year.
“We have $5,000 in funds. We’re looking for $20,000 more. It just makes good sense to find the funds to extend it for another month,” said Stephanie Ediger, executive-director of the Alouette Home Start Society.
The shelter’s monthly budget is $30,000, needed for upkeep, groceries and 24-hour-a-day staffing.
“They are five teenagers. They eat a lot.”
The safe house, which opened in central Maple Ridge in 2005, no longer qualifies for funding after the federal government adopted its Housing First policy, which focuses on giving people physical living spaces before providing other services.
The society could have applied for a smaller amount of Homelessness Partnering Strategy funding for another year, but Ediger said it didn’t meet the criteria.
With the main source of its funding no longer there, and interim grants exhausted, the Iron Horse was to close its doors Dec. 31.
“But Dec. 31 is probably the worst day of the year to do that,” Ediger said. “We’re especially concerned about the youth 16 and under.”
Ediger said the goal is to raise enough money to stay open until Jan. 31, while staff find a way to re-invent the program so it qualifies for funding.
So far, the society has provincial funding for a third of its operating costs for six months, providing the federal government gives a third and the society contributes a third.
“All the MLAs [Liberals Doug Bing and Marc Dalton] are working with us. I hope they don’t take their foot off the gas,” Sandrelli said.
But she points the home start society is a small group with a board of seven that can’t raise all the money needed to keep the house open. Other shelters receive provincial funding.
“It’s going to take a lot more to bring the resources into the community that the youth deserve here. We just want the same consideration as everybody else [other cities].”
“Our board is committed to keeping the shelter open. We’re committed to raising that amount,” said Ediger.
The shelter is used by kids from outside of the community, but more than a third of those who stay at the shelter are from Maple Ridge.
Before Iron Horse opened in 2005, homeless kids had to go to a safe house in Vancouver. That often derailed plans for family mediation and schooling, as well as introducing them to a more street-entrenched lifestyle, the society said last week when it issued a public plea for donations.
The appeal is being made to the public, but people are also asked to contact Conservative MP Randy Kamp and Liberal MLAs Bing and Dalton.
• People who want to donate can go the website alouettehomestart.com or can send a cheque made out to AHSS or Iron Horse Youth Safe House to No. 101-22207 Brown Ave., Maple Ridge, B.C., V2X 9B5.