A warm, dry haven tucked into the basement of a Victoria church offers refuge for vulnerable youth.
The Sanctuary Youth Centre is open to those aged 14 to 22 from Friday through Sunday in a bid to fill the gaps between youth agencies open during the week. In 2021, about 250 young people have come through the door on Humboldt Street.
“It’s a pivotal time in their lives where we can make a strong impact,” executive director Darin Reimer said on a soggy fall Wednesday, seated at a comfortable sectional in the centre. That mid-week time when they’re closed is an opportunity to restock food supplies, courtesy of Mustard Seed Street Church, and things such as clothing.
Youth can come sober, or not, and staff and volunteers are trained in overdose awareness and naloxone administration, Reimer said.
Youth feel safe and have basic food and clothing needs met. Then Sanctuary staff and volunteers can begin to address emotional needs, Reimer said. “Studies show that’s the lacking resource.”
The situations of the youth range from those “living rough” with no tent or shelter, to those with unsafe housing who just need a space to be. Youth are encouraged to purchase the items at low cost.
Data from the Greater Victoria 2020 Point in Time count underscores the need for youth to have those base needs covered. On the night of March 11, 2020 at least 1,523 people were experiencing homelessness in Greater Victoria – including 10 per cent of those 24 and younger.
The following night 854 people participated in a homeless needs survey, with a large portion of respondents reporting they had their first experience with homelessness as a youth. For 51.4 per cent, that first experience happened under the age of 25 with 37.6 per cent first experiencing homelessness as a teen.
There are other basic legal needs met by the Sanctuary. Bella Smid, program manager, recently helped a girl cut through the red tape and paper work of filing a sexual assault report. Youth living in precarious situations are frequently fearful to report incidents, and the hoops required to leap through don’t help, noted Smid, who helps build confidence and ensure they know their rights.
They also organize mentorships, should youth show interest. Aside from the facilities, musical instruments set up in a corner hint at sessions where a Mobile Youth Services Team (MYST) officer comes in and jams with youth, building rapport and trust. MYST was created in 2001 to focus on the problems of sexually exploited youth.
The Sanctuary is supported by about 20 volunteers; eight faith groups of a variety of denominations; service groups and United Way Southern Vancouver Island grants. Funding is roughly 60 per cent personal donations 40 per cent corporate.
Visit sanctuaryyouth.org to learn more about the program.