Yesterday, the Community Council on Homelessness sent a letter concerning the closure of Safe Harbour to all Provincial MLAs. You can download a pdf here: Letter from CCH re Safe Harbour, or read the text below.
To members of the Legislative Assembly:
It is with a sense of urgency that I write to you on behalf of Saint John’s Community Council on Homelessness (CCH). Unless immediate actions are taken by the Province, Safe Harbour, which provides emergency and transitional housing to homeless youth in our community, will be closing on Friday due to a lack of funding.
The Province has an obligation to attend to the basic needs of all of its residents, including homeless youth. We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure the continued operation of Safe Harbour; it provides an essential service to youth in our community. In less than 10 months, 55 youth (45 of whom were under the age of 19) have sought refuge at Safe Harbour. It has been operating at, or near, capacity since its third week of operations—often with a waiting list. The most frequent referral source has been social workers from the provincial department of Social Development.
Safe Harbour is a community initiative that arose out of a clearly identified need. In 2007, a count of homeless youth in Saint John was conducted. The report stated that 45 homeless youth were identified; homeless youth 17 to 19 years of age accounted for over half of those counted.
In November 2009, the Business Community Anti-Poverty Initiative (BCAPI) hosted a community forum called Pathways to Education and Employment for At-Risk Youth, where ways to improve the lives of youth, in the short- and long-term, were discussed. A transition house with support services for homeless youth was identified as the top priority.
Shortly after this, a Youth sub-committee of the Community Council on Homelessness (CCH) was formed. This committee evolved into the Board of Directors for Safe Harbour.
In 2012, 68 youth between the ages of 19-24 used an adult emergency shelter in Saint John; in 2013, this number was 67. Adult emergency shelters are unable to meet the specific needs of youth experiencing homelessness—they do not have the capacity, nor is it their mandate. Transitional housing for youth is critical because many youth do not have the life skills necessary to live on their own. They need a safe place to stabilize, and learn how to budget, grocery shop, cook, clean, do laundry, etc.
Youth workers and youth serving agencies have been adamant about the need for emergency and transitional housing for youth. Despite their best efforts to help at-risk youth in our community, time and time again they were faced with the reality that you can give a kid all the supports in the world, but if they don’t have a safe, stable place to sleep at night, it won’t matter. Without a safe, stable place to live, nothing else works. This community has worked tirelessly to piece together a social safety net in which to catch youth before they slip through the cracks. It took years, but Safe Harbour filled one of the largest gaps. We cannot lose this critical piece of infrastructure and essential service—especially if we are serious about addressing inter-generational poverty in Saint John and making sure youth are able to stay in school.
Sometimes, youth are able to reconnect with family once they have stabilized—but not always. For some youth, foster care works—but it does not work for everyone. Given that our city has the highest child poverty rate of any major city in Canada, it is absolutely paramount that we have supports in place for the youth who are most at risk of slipping through the cracks. This is not only an investment in their future, but in our future as a city and as a province.
We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure that Safe Harbour continues to meet the needs of homeless youth in our region.
Thank you for your time.