Homeless youths may have one fewer refuge if the North Shore Youth Safe House doesn’t receive an infusion of funding in the near future.
The federal government’s failure to adequately fund shelters “leaves us holding the bag,” said Hollyburn Family Services executive director Nanette Taylor.
The future of North Vancouver’s six-bed facility for homeless teens and runaways is in jeopardy, according to Taylor.
“We’re just frustrated that there’s money available (and) Ottawa is dictating how we get to spend it,” she said.
The federal government has targeted funding through their Housing First model, which focuses on Canadians who are chronically homeless, meaning they’ve been on the street for six straight months or for 90 days within the past year.
While the aim of pursuing housing immediately might be a good fit for most of the country, it’s not working on the North Shore, according to Taylor.
“In this part of the world … we don’t have affordable housing options. The stock of affordable housing is low to zero, particularly for certain populations, (such as) youth.”
Hollyburn has raised “some very legitimate concerns,” according to North Vancouver Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson.
The designation of chronic homelessness is problematic as it doesn’t apply to couch surfers or young people living with abuse, he said.
Wilkinson said he plans to address the issue when in Ottawa this September and hopes the minister responsible will investigate whether it’s necessary to “change the architecture” of the program.
“That’s probably not something that could be fixed in a very short period of time, but it’s probably something that could be addressed within six months or so,” he said.
While the North Shore’s MPs have been receptive to Hollyburn’s concerns, correspondence with Minister of Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos has resulted in “very unsatisfactory responses,” according to Taylor.
With outreach workers “on the streets and in the bushes,” the North Shore Youth Safe House is part of a necessary housing continuum for teenagers fleeing abuse and unstable households, Taylor said.
The safe house would be funded as transitional housing, “but then that eliminates the safe house, and we have 150 kids knocking on the door every year,” Taylor said.
Hollyburn Family Services recently applied to the City of North Vancouver for $30,000 in core funding but were reluctantly rebuffed by council. “I think we’re already going above and beyond,” said Mayor Darrell Mussatto at the July 18 meeting of council, referring to numerous grants Hollyburn Family Services has received from the city. “The other levels of government need to step up.”
Coun. Rod Clark blamed the federal government for Hollyburn’s struggle. “If there’s a group in the community who should be core-funded, it should be Hollyburn Family Services,” Clark said. “As far as I’m concerned, the federal government has dropped the ball on the whole homelessness issue.”
The city is very supportive, according to Taylor. “The real issue is that the criteria has changed,” she said.
Hollyburn Family Services has been soliciting cash from donors and the North Shore’s municipal governments to shore up the annual operating costs – including staffing, repairs and maintenance – of $400,000, but the society is falling short, according to Taylor.
Hollyburn is expecting to cover a third of next year’s operating costs through philanthropic donations.
Hollyburn is also eligible to apply to the City of North Vancouver for a $15,000 community grant in 2017.
The facility has four beds for emergency accommodation and two beds to help youth transition to living on their own. The safe house is staffed all day, every day by family support workers and parent-teen mediation workers. The safe house also provides referrals to medical and mental health support, and educational and vocational counselling.