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Safe haven in the dark

Dorothy Westerman
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 09/05) - When home is an uninviting place for youth to return to at the end of the evening, a welcome sign now hangs like a beacon on the SideDoor Youth Centre.

The new Living Room program at the centre is designed to provide an emergency overnight haven on Friday and Saturday nights for youth between the ages of 16-19, says Ryan Peters, executive director of SideDoor.

Ryan Peters, executive director of SideDoor: "There is a need for the program."

"In conversation with these youth and witnessing them downtown in the late night hours, we've noticed for a number of years now that there is a need for the program," Peters said.

The program will provide youth with a snack, hot shower, a warm continental breakfast and also counselling from trained outreach workers, he said, adding that the program is an overnight haven, not a long-term shelter. "The program has also come from talk amongst the Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition. And I'm sure many of the public have noticed the need," he said.

There is room for almost 20 youth, he said, adding that while no one yet has used the service, now in its second week, a need has been identified.

Greg Cummings, CEO at Yellowknife Health and Social Services, said they contributed $17,000 to the project until the end of the fiscal year.

Cummings said they would wait to see how effective the program is to decide whether or not it will receive further funding.

"They have identified a specific need, so it will be determined if it is being met," Cummings said.

No other agency in Yellowknife provides such a service to youth in this age category, Peters said.

"There is homelessness that is forced on youth and there is homelessness that is chosen.

"We're looking to service the youth who are not feeling safe at home," Peters said.

Many of those youth encounter alcoholic or abusive parents at home and do not have a safe roof over their heads, he said.

This new program will also direct the youth to other resources in Yellowknife's social services network.

Peters said he would like to see the program run every night. "We feel it is a very basic program, a very small-scale program, but at the same time, it's going to meet a big need for Yellowknife youth."