Friday, 30 December 2016 05:20

New challenges waiting for Southwest YES in 2017

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Southwest Youth Emergency Shelter (YES) can look back on a very successful year during which a new shelter was constructed within four months through amazing support from the community, but 2017 will present a new set of challenges for the non-profit organization.


Dorie’s House, the new emergency shelter for homeless youth in southwest Saskatchewan, will open Jan. 15.
The shelter will provide accommodation to up to eight young people of all genders between the ages of 14 and 18. Staff will be on duty for 24 hours per day.
Southwest YES Executive Director Betty McDougall said the shelter will need eight full-time staff as well as a number of casual staff. Interviews were done in early December and staff training is scheduled to take place after Christmas and up to opening day.
“There’s some specific things, like recognizing signs of addiction would be one example, suicide prevention training, some of the more critical ones,” she mentioned. “There’s some general ones like safe food handling we need to have, but those will come. We don’t know who our first young person is going to be. So we want to make sure that we have the skills to be able to do what needs to be done.”
The annual proposed budget to operate the shelter is $600,000. Staffing cost will be a major portion of this budget. Southwest YES has requested the provincial government to support the shelter with an annual allocation of $400,000 for staffing, but the government has not yet made a commitment to do that.
Southwest YES therefore decided to take out a mortgage on the new building as an interim measure to pay for staffing cost.
“We could have been debt free, mortgage free, had the funding come through,” she said. “This way, we’ll be operating, but now we have that additional expense of the mortgage. So that’s disappointing.”
McDougall will also be working as a support worker, in addition to her duties as executive director, as a means to reduce operating costs. She will therefore work the first eight hours of a 12-hour shift as a support worker from Monday to Friday between 8 a.m and 4 p.m., and then the remaining four hours will be covered by a part-time staff member.
“So I’ll be doing double duty for that until we get funding,” she said. “There will be quite a bit of juggling between now and that point, but it will save us some money that way.”
She realizes the provincial government is facing challenges due to a weaker economy, but she is hopeful the level of community support for Dorie’s House will help their case with the government.
“Government is struggling with oil being down and so on, they are looking to meet their budget already and they’re not,” she said. “So I think our timing is a little bit off that way, but I think our community has definitely demonstrated the need. It’s beyond just the committee saying that there is a need.”
McDougall has seen the progress of this initiative to establish a youth shelter for southwest Saskatchewan since the Southwest YES board initially hired her in November 2013 as development co-ordinator.
She conducted a survey in the spring of 2014 to determine the need for a shelter in the region.
Every day there are youth who do not have a safe place to stay, but this homelessness is not always visible. She noted the term couch surfing has become commonplace, but people do not always realize what it means.
“That means that child does not have a permanent home, but we’ve forgotten that because we say they’re couch surfing or I’ve had my child’s friend spent a couple of weeks with us, and not really thinking about what that really is,” she said.
This initiative has helped to make people more aware of the issue, but her conversations with contractors during the construction of Dorie’s House indicated that many people are already aware of the need for a shelter.
“Many of the folks that were working here were telling me stories about I wish I would have had this, I have a nephew, niece, cousin that could use this, we can’t wait until you open,” she recalled. “So the community I think really stepped up and embraced the project because they know the need.”
The number of youth who are looking for support from the shelter when it opens on Jan. 15 might be more than the eight beds available in the facility.
“We have heard from counsellors and individuals who work with youth that they can’t wait until we open,” she said. “So our challenge is going to be to take all of these kids that are coming to our door and determine which eight have the highest need, and that’s going to be heart breaking.”
She emphasized the work of Southwest YES is not simply aimed at addressing young people’s need for shelter.
“As one of our board members has often said, we won’t have young people coming to the door and saying I don’t have a place to sleep tonight, but everything else in my life is great,” she noted.
Their goal is to provide young people with the necessary support to make it possible for them to focus on the issues in their lives.
“We will be an emergency shelter transition program,” she said. “This is a safe place to stay and then what our staff would be doing is connecting youth to whatever they need. So once they know that they have a warm place to sleep and they’ve got food, they can focus on what else is going on in their life.”
The proposal from Southwest YES for funding support from the provincial government has placed emphasis on this point that it is not only a shelter issue. The service provided through Dorie’s House will have benefits for the work done by the ministries of Social Services, Justice and Health with young people, which means the funding for the shelter can potentially be shared between different departments.
“That’s all a starting point for the conversation, but to me it makes sense because then it’s not a large item in any of the ministries,” she said. “We’re addressing all of those issues that they are facing or that they’re having to deal with beyond the initial offence of the young person or the initial addictions issue. ... The young people, once they come here and they have a warm place to sleep and they have food, can start dealing with their issues, but if you’re just trying to get by day by day, you don’t ever get to that.”
She is confident the challenge of stable funding for the staffing of Dorie’s House will be addressed and that the shelter will be able to focus on supporting youth in need.
“Every time we’ve hit one of these stalls something has happened, and underneath all of it we’re working very hard to pursue all options and to see what can be done,” she said. “So we still continue to do that. We’re hopeful that our ministries in our government will take a look at this and say there is real value in this.”

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Matthew Liebenberg

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