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Youth safe house ready to close

Layoffs notices handed out to Maple Ridge shelter staff
Cheyenne Stebbe and Tara Pozsonyi at the Iron Horse Youth Safe House

Time has run out on the Iron Horse Youth Safe House.

The 20 or so part-time and casual staff who help kids in trouble now have their layoff notices, and by New Year’s Eve, the five-bed emergency shelter will close.

“We’re hoping for Ministry of Children and Family Development support and we’re hoping that a last-minute miracle will allow the shelter to stay open. But at this point, it’s highly unlikely,” said Stephanie Ediger, executive-director of the Alouette Home Start Society.

While other youth shelters are supported by the ministry, Maple Ridge is the sole shelter not to get that help, she said.

Talks are continuing, but so far, there’s been no commitment from the ministry.

Therefore, the shelter had to give notice so other agencies could do the same.

“So far, we haven’t been successful and it’s December now.”

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

Since it opened in 2005, the shelter has relied on the federal 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.

The Alouette Home Start Society applied for the smaller portion of funding allocated for emergency programs, such as offered to safe houses, but was refused.

Ediger said Tuesday that, as of January, Maple Ridge will receive no federal money to help or support homeless people.

But MP Randy Kamp pointed out that services such as youth shelters usually are provincial responsibilities.

“I think in terms of Iron Horse, you can certainly make the argument that child and youth are certainly the responsibility of the [provincial] ministry.”

Kamp, though, hasn’t heard if provincial funding for the shelter is imminent.

“I guess they haven’t stepped up yet,” he said of the children’s ministry.

“I hope the MLAs are advocating for it.”

Groups were told a few years ago that a change was being made to the Housing First model, which Kamp said is now being followed in most countries.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise, but I do understand their disappointment.”

Still, there is still some federal money available for emergency-type shelter programs, he added.

In September, Service Canada also cut $140,000 that allowed the Salvation Army to add 15 cold-wet weather mats to its existing 25 year-round beds.

If the youth shelter closes for good, Ediger said the house, on a city-owned lot, could be used for some other program to help youth using provincial money.

“But right now, it’s very unclear what direction that will take.”

Since it opened, the Iron Horse Youth Safe House has given more than 1,100 kids a safe place to stay. Maximum length of stay at the house, which cares for kids between 13 and 18 years old, is 30 days.

While staying there, kids are given support and help so they can plan the next stage of their lives.

The shelter is also used by kids from outside of Maple Ridge. More than a third of those who stay at the shelter are from Maple Ridge.

Ediger said without the shelter open, teens will have to go the six other youth emergency shelters in Metro Vancouver.

But only one shelter in North Vancouver and another in Vancouver helps kids under 14 years old.

One teen wrote to Iron Horse saying the shelter helped her as she struggled with drug addiction and says it helps teens younger than her.

“If you close down Iron Horse and they have nowhere else to go but the safe houses in Vancouver and Surrey, they are just going to give up on themselves.”

Ediger said new money provided by B.C. Housing’s Homeless Prevention Program will help youth find market housing and that the Alouette Home Start Society could double it’s transitional housing capacity for youth.

But, “that tends not to be the youth who are 16 and under. That’s where the real gap is going to be.”