Thursday, 05 April 2018 07:14

Swift Current rally shows support for emergency youth shelter

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Shaun Hanna addresses rally supporters. Shaun Hanna addresses rally supporters.

People showed their support for an emergency youth shelter in southwest Saskatchewan during a rally in front of Dorie's House in Swift Current, March 28.


The rally was a response to a letter from the Ministry of Social Services to the non-profit organization Southwest Youth Emergency Shelter (YES), which indicated there will not be any funding allocation for Dorie's House in the 2018-19 provincial budget.
Tom Westbury, who coordinated the construction of Dorie's House by local contractors in 2016, organized the rally.
The construction of Dorie's House was the result of a long-term initiative to establish an emergency youth shelter in southwest Saskatchewan. The shelter has been named in honour of Westbury's mother, who had a lifelong passion for children.
He spoke passionately about the project and the need for this eight-bed emergency shelter for youth between the ages of 14 and 17 who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.
“I don’t understand how a whole corner of a province can join together and build this house, and the government does not want anything to do with it,” he said. “When we announced the house was going to be closing in October, there was six youth living in here. It tore my heart into two.”
He reached out to former Swift Current MLA and Premier Brad Wall, and the Ministry of Social Services did a review of the services available to youth in the city.
“The ministry came down to reassess the problem, but the ministry has failed,” Westbury said. “They see that there is no problem, but everybody here is behind me and that’s what we got to do right now, is we got to get as loud as we can and send as many letters as we can. We need to stand up for our youth.”
He emphasized that Dorie's House is more than just a safe place for youth to stay for a while. It is a place where they can start their journey to find help and to get back on their feet.
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Two local youth addressed the crowd and shared their personal experiences with homelessness in Swift Current.
Alex Lindquist was homeless for brief periods a few times, but Dorie's House was not built then.
“The worst time is when I had no car and no one would let me sleep on their couch and I had no friends that would help me out,” he said. “So I had to resort to sleeping underneath the bleachers at the skate park in the middle of winter, struggling to go to school. It was a miracle if I even showed up.”
He knows a couple of people who stayed in Dorie's House when they were in need, and he believes it is important to have an emergency shelter for youth.
“The reason I’m so passionate about seeing Dorie’s House open and funded is because I don’t want other kids or teenagers ending up like I did without somewhere to go, having to sleep on benches, struggling for a sandwich every day, wondering if something good will come,” he said. “I want them to have somewhere to turn to, a warm bed to sleep in, food for them to eat. I wouldn’t wish anyone to live on the streets.”
Tristan Byers stayed in Dorie's House while it was open. The shelter made it possible for him to come back to his hometown from Regina.
“I’m hoping it can open your eyes enough to try and help me get this place open and running, because I know there are many kids that need this in our community,” he said. “I was one of them.”
The staff at Dorie's House helped him to make better choices and he was able to return to school.
“Dorie’s House gave me a place to stay when there was nowhere else to go,” he said. “Then it closed. When Dorie’s House was forced to close its doors. I was back on the streets and now it was winter time. For the next few nights I slept inside Tim Hortons until I was arrested for breaching curfew and was taken back to Regina once again.”
He was eventually able to return to Swift Current and he is now staying with family while continuing his education.
“I do not want other kids to have to go through what I did,” he said. “If Dorie’s House was open today, they would always have a place to go. When I was there, the staff of Dorie’s House let me know that they would not judge me for the choices I’ve made in the past and that they were there to help me become the person I wanted to be.”
The Southwest YES board decided to open Dorie's House as a pilot project after the construction of the facility to assess the need for such a shelter in the region. The intention was to have it open for a year, but due to financial constraints it was closed after eight and a half months.
Shaun Hanna, the Southwest YES interim board president, spoke at the rally about the efforts over the past 30 years to establish an emergency youth shelter in southwest Saskatchewan.
“Opening a shelter was the only thing that had never been tried,” he said. “It’s not enough that we tell our kids that they matter, that they are important. We have to prove it to them that they are through our actions every single day.”
He noted that proposals for an emergency shelter were submitted to different provincial governments since 1985.
“Each time those proposals got close to being funded, they were rejected,” he said. “Always for the same reason. We don’t see a need and to whatever extent there is a need, it’s being handled, but what they leave out, and this is important, is that they’re also not looking for a need.”
He believes the pilot project at Dorie's House showed the need for an emergency shelter in the region and he disagrees with the Ministry of Social Services position that other organizations in Swift Current are already providing sufficient support services for youth.
“We are not suggesting for a minute that for us to be funded, somebody else must be defunded,” he emphasized. “The organizations that exist in this community provide an invaluable service to our youth as it pertains to their own lanes, but what we offer is something truly unique and truly different. We’re a conduit for service, both males and females, between 14 and 17, so that they can live up to their full potential.”
Hanna addressed a concern that the provincial government will create a precedent if it funds Dorie's House, because it can serve as a motivation for other groups to also build a facility and then expect from government to provide funding.
“If another group can show more than three decades of research and intends to provide a real need, and if they should find themselves suddenly the recipient of unprecedented community support to build a purpose build million dollar facility for a need that’s not currently addressed, and should a realistic evaluation of their pilot project justify that there truly is a need for service and should all of that effort go towards protecting those who represent our future, well then respectfully I say they should get funding too,” he said.

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Matthew Liebenberg

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