Red Deer Youth and Volunteer Centre’s Youth Winter Inn is trying to catch youth before they get caught in the cycle of homelessness.
The centre’s Youth Winter Inn program includes a full-time community support staff member working year-round to help youth reconnect with family, enter longer-term housing programs or live independently, and access programs to work on issues like addictions.
The Winter Inn opened for its third season on Dec. 15 for homeless teens age 14 to 17 who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs or won’t be accepted elsewhere, for example because of anger issues.
The overnight mat program has space for seven youth.
Rose Hatfield, program manager of Youth Winter Inn, said the program was off to a slow start in December. So far seven youth aged 15 to 17 have used the inn this season, most of them female.
“Boxing Day is when we started pretty much getting kids in and we’ve consistently had one or two since that time,” Hatfield said on Monday.
“To have the kids come back, that just reaffirms the kids are not making a decision to stay somewhere they may not be safe. If this is an option, they’re going to take it, even if it’s mild.”
A delay in funding prevented the Youth Winter Inn from opening earlier in the season. With less funding, spaces dropped to seven from 10 mats, but Hatfield said the inn rarely had all the mats filled.
The federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy is funding the program, and for the first time so is the province through Central Alberta Child and Family Services Authority.
“Hopefully we can sustain (provincial funding) for future years because there is always going to be these youth. There is always going to be a need for a youth shelter as there is for adult shelters. They have very similar issues.”
“These kids aren’t entrenched (in the homelessness cycle) as a lot of the adult population. But they are on the road to it,” Hatfield said.
Red Deer Youth and Volunteer Centre’s Youth Winter Inn operates from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
To be admitted, youth should ring the doorbell at the centre’s rear after-hours door at 4633 49th St. and press the intercom to speak to staff.
Red Deer Youth and Volunteer Centre accepts public donations like socks, mittens and non-perishable food to assist Winter Inn clients.