Youth safe house still on life support

$30,000 in donations kept Maple Ridge house open in January

Thanks to the kindness of strangers who opened their wallets, the Iron Horse Youth Safe House stayed open Christmas and New Year’s Eve and all of January, when it was important to give kids a place to go at one of the toughest times of the year.

Good thing it did, too, because the shelter was full, and remains that way, with all of its five beds occupied.

But with less than a week of funding left to operate as 24-hour emergency shelter, change is coming to the Iron Horse.

Alouette Home Start Society executive-director Stephanie Ediger said talks continue with the provincial government for interim money to allow the Iron Horse to keep running as a shelter.

But when that money runs out, or it doesn’t receive that interim funding, the house will have to adapt its operations and become a referral and counselling centre, sending kids who need a place to stay to shelters outside Maple Ridge.

So far, not a penny has been promised to keep the shelter open after Jan. 31.

Despite that, Ediger still has hope.

“We are very hopeful that interim funding from the province will be available so that we can maintain a level of service that allows Iron Horse to provide shelter to homeless youth, while we develop a proposal for a redesign of youth housing and support programs,” she said Tuesday.

If it doesn’t get the money, Iron Horse will rely on donations so it can operate as a referral centre, connecting teens to Ministry of Children and Family Development, which is responsible for housing youth. That would mean, however, that teens would be sent elsewhere in the Lower Mainland. Most of the kids who use the shelter are from outside Maple Ridge.

Earlier this month, Barj Dhahan and Gurtek Shoker, local Tim Hortons franchisees, donated $12,500 to keep Iron Horse open, challenging other businesses to match the amount. Realtor Adrian Keenan also challenged other realtors to help out. They did with a contribution of $4,200. The end result was that the safe house came up with the $30,000 needed to operate as a 24/7 shelter for the month of January.

Since it opened in 2005, the shelter received federal funding for most of its $375,000 annual budget.

But in the past two years, the federal government has allotted most of the money for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy to Housing First programs, which focus on providing physical living spaces for people rather than emergency shelter programs.

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.