Community steps up to save North Shore Youth Safe House from closure

When 16-year-old Ellie Willock learned that a North Vancouver safe house for at-risk teens was in danger of closing, she knew how she wanted to spend some of an inheritance from her grandmother.

Willock‘s $2,500 donation — along with donations from local residents, community groups and businesses — helped toward raising the $150,000 shortfall that  after a change to how the federal housing funding would be spent.

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” she told CBC News.

Until about a year ago, when she heard a former resident speak about her experience, Willock had been completely unaware of the six-bed facility, which provides emergency housing and support services for teens who are homeless or living in unsafe situations.

She also learned that the federal government had changed its funding model to focus on housing Canadians who are chronically homeless. And youth halfway homes, which aim to keep young people off the streets in the first place, don‘t meet that bar.

“Over the past year I‘ve realized that I know some people who have stayed at the safe house. They‘re a part of our community,” Willock said.

‘Absolutely fabulous‘

The safe house is operated by Hollyburn Family Services and is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by family support workers and parent-teen mediation workers. It serves up to 150 youth every year.

Funding from community members like Willock will keep the safe house open for another three years, according to Nanette Taylor, executive director of Hollyburn Family Services.

“It was absolutely fabulous that they took it on and said we‘ll step into the breach,” Taylor said. “They didn‘t want to see their youth going to the Downtown Eastside, they didn‘t want to see their youth not being served, they didn‘t want to see them on the streets.”

Taylor hopes that by the time the funding runs out, Ottawa and the province will have stepped up with longer term funding.

With files from Megan Batchelor

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