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Funding for teen shelter program

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 15/06) - Garry Hubert may be pleased Yellowknife Health and Social Services funding has finally arrived for the Side Door Youth Centre's Living Room program, but he's not satisfied.

"I don't want a band-aid solution, I want this to be an established and ongoing program year-round," said the centre's director.

For the past three years, the Side Door has hosted the Living Room program, which offers refuge to the city's at-risk teens.

The problem is the $150,000 in funding it receives covers costs for only eight months of the year.

For the previous two years, the funding was in place early enough for the program to operate from September to April. This season the funding came late, reducing the program to six months.

"When I asked (Yellowknife Health and Social Services) the reason they funded it for only eight months, I was told that it's warm enough outside (the other months) for youth to stay outside," he said, adding that such sentiment is not isolated.

"I don't want to say who has said that but let's just say I've heard it from several people in government."

Floyd Roland, minister of Health and Social Services, told Yellowknifer that education, housing and health ministries have been directed to come up with an annual funding plan for homelessness programs.

But until that process is complete and incorporated into an annual budget, funding will continue to come from supplementary appropriations.

"It's taken a little longer than expected but they have put forward a position," said Roland.

He would not comment whether the funding plan would be included in the 2007 budget.

"It doesn't necessarily mean (places such as Side Door will get) year-round funding but it would ensure funding, would be there," he said.

According to Hubert, from September 2005 to March 2006, more than 250 youth took shelter at the Side Door's 'living room'. In addition to offering a warm place to spend the night, meals, showers, laundry services and one-on-one counselling are available.

Hubert estimated it would cost about $200,000 to run the program 365 days a year.

"The youth population that is homeless is really an unseen population," said Lydia Bardak, chair of the Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition.

An estimated 100 to 200 youth in the capital are homeless due to a variety of reasons, from unstable domestic situations to drug and alcohol problems.

Bardak called the funding Side Door receives for its living room program "inconsistent," adding there's a "desperate and urgent need" in Yellowknife to address this issue.

Hubert said he believes marginalized youth are being ignored.

"It's almost as if the government has abandoned them," he said.

"We look at our downtown core and what do we see out there? We've got young kids out there until three or four in the morning, getting involved in drugs and prostitution with no place to go."