Still no funding for Maple Ridge youth shelter as year end looms

MP Randy Kamp says safe house should have applied for grant

  • Dec. 9, 2014 7:00 a.m.
Youth workers Cheyenne Stebbe and Tara Pozsonyi help kids get focused constructively on their lives.

Youth workers Cheyenne Stebbe and Tara Pozsonyi help kids get focused constructively on their lives.

The message the 16-year-old ex-Iron Horse Youth Safe House resident wants to get out is that kids who stay at the place don’t lounge around all day, watching TV and eating junk food.

During the daytime, they’re outside trying to meet their goals of going back to school, find a job or a place to live.

“They wake you up in the morning and they make you go out and accomplish your goals. Nobody comes here and just sits around and eats and watches TV.”

The teen from Ontario spent three months at the safe house in Maple Ridge this summer after her job ended.

Now, after guidance from youth workers, she has a youth agreement, which provides her an apartment. She is graduating high school and planning for university.

Had there not been the safe house, she’d still be wasting her time, would still have been couch surfing and “crashing in random guys’ places.”

She didn’t want her name used, but hastens to add that her time at the youth safe house helped her much. When kids leave, she added, they just want to give back and help others.

“It’s totally a ripple effect.”

Nevertheless, the Iron Horse Youth Safe House plans to close it doors Dec. 31, unless it finds emergency funding.

The shelter’s future has been uncertain for a year, following a change in the federal funding model.

Since it opened in 2005, the shelter has relied on the Homelessness Partnering Strategy to pay most of its $375,000 budget.

But under the Housing First strategy, announced a few years ago, 65 per cent of that money has to go to physical living spaces. Once housed, other services, such as counselling, are provided.

Stephanie Ediger, with the Alouette Home Start Society, which runs the safe house, said the society didn’t apply for the smaller portion of the money because it couldn’t meet the requirements.

To qualify, the safe house would have to show it had sustainable funding in future years and that it could match whatever amount it receives in grants with its own financial resources.

As well, the society’s request for a year’s funding would have accounted for half the money available in Metro Vancouver for emergency and shelter programs.

“It requires an enormous amount of work to put a proposal together,” Ediger said

But a statement last week from the Employment and Social Development Canada says the Iron Horse could have qualified.

That bothers Ediger, who says the youth safe house just didn’t meet the funding criteria. Another request for funding for the society’s Route 29 program was also denied.

“I feel that whoever made the announcement may not have understood the definition and the reality of the situation. I just feel a bit betrayed,” Ediger said.

Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Randy Kamp says the society should have put in an application.

“I know you’ll never get it if you don’t.”

Kamp says that another agency in Maple Ridge has a good chance of getting money from the same source.

He said that societies were told previously to improve their long-term financial sustainability so that they could qualify for the new program.

“I can’t say that it would have been approved,” Kamp said.

“To say that you’re not eligible is inaccurate because 35 per cent of the HPS funding can be used for a variety of non-Housing First projects, including shelters and transitional housing … . I wish she had applied.”

Kamp pointed out that the Homelessness Partnering Strategy gives the money to community entities, such as Metro Vancouver. A community advisory board then makes recommendations to Metro Vancouver on who gets the money.

“At no point are there federal politicians involved in these decisions.”

The home start society has had discussions with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, but there’s been no word that any money is coming to keep the five-bed shelter open, Ediger said.

“We’ve heard nothing, absolutely nothing, to give us any reassurance that there’s anything coming.”

Staff layoff notices have already been issued.

One of the current residents of the house, Beronicka Keres, 18, who has stayed at previous safe houses in Vancouver and Surrey, says the Iron Horse is the best of all of them. Without such places to go, kids are at risk of drug addiction or falling into crime or prostitution, which she’s seen happen.

“There are younger kids out there who have it harder, so it’s more damage to them.”

She, too, wants to get her own place and finish school and continue writing what’s now her second novel.

She thinks if the federal government really wanted to fund the youth shelter, it would.

“I’m sure it’s not as impossible as they think.”