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Community support needed to create new haven for homeless youth

Youth Haven needs to raise around $1 million for new facility; 'We need the community to get behind us. We can’t have our youth end up on the streets,' says official

Leaking windows, water-damaged ceiling tiles, animals living in the roof, foundation issues, a broken furnace, and cramped bedrooms.

It’s obvious why Youth Haven executive director Lucy Gowers is excited for the prospect of a new building in Barrie.

The Wellington Street shelter helps approximately 500 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 in Simcoe County every year, providing emergency shelter, transitional housing and outreach services. And while staff members do their best with the space they have, Gowers says it’s time to do better.

“Our shelter was in dire need of repairs, so last summer I reached out to the Simcoe County Home Builders Association. I was hoping that they could suggest someone to come by and do the repairs that were needed," she said. 

After speaking to association's executive director, Gowers was invited to do a presentation to their board members at which time she invited them to tour the facility. The board agreed the shelter was in need of repairs and that they would find a way to help, she added. 

“After inviting one of their engineers to go through the shelter, it was decided that the shelter needed more than just cosmetic repairs and a decision was made to tear it down and rebuild it," Gowers said. "This is an amazing opportunity for us and we can't be more grateful to the Simcoe County Home Builders Association.”

The plan is for the existing building to be torn down next spring and the new structure to be built on the same site over the course of two months, she said. During that time, there will be no interruptions to the services provided, noted Gowers, adding the plan is to transition to local hotels, as was also done during the pandemic.

Last September, Youth Haven launched a capital campaign to attempt to raise the $2 million needed for the new build, which she said will serve youth in need for decades to come and be a place they will feel safe and have access to youth-centred support to help get them back on their feet. To date, they have raised more than $300,000. 

Although a portion of the cost is being covered through the Simcoe County Home Builders Association, Gowers says Youth Haven desperately needs the community's support to get them the rest of the way to their goal. 

“We need to raise just over $1 million dollars in actual dollars for us to be able to furnish our new home, to be able to make sure we’ve got everything in place to be able to continue to provide the services and programs we do,” she said.

“It’s through the community’s generous support that we are able to do what we do. The County of Simcoe has been a big supporter of ours and we do receive some funding from them that allows us to continue to do what we do, but let’s face it, that’s not enough," Gowers added. 

She described the new building as a “purpose-built shelter” that will provide a “safe, clean, bright, positive space” that will take Youth Haven's current bed occupancy from 19 to 31. That is significant, Gowers added, as it means more youth in need will have a safe space to sleep at night and access to various support services.

The shelter will include 14 bedrooms with two beds in each on the second floor, and three single rooms on the main floor for individuals with mobility issues, a lounge, administration offices, a large eat-in kitchen, a designated doctor and dentist office, counselling offices, a study area, and a laundry facility.

One of the three single rooms will be offered as a community room for youth sleeping rough or not able to access temporary emergency shelter, but who are still in need of food, a hot shower, a bed, and access to counselling and support services, Gowers said. 

Outside there will be outdoor gardens and a recreational space, she added.

“The youth who come to Youth Haven face many obstacles to achieving independence. As you know, most of our youth have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse, often at the hands of the adults that were responsible for taking care of them. A lot of thought has been put into the design of our new facility, in ensuring that we are meeting the needs of youth who depend on us for support,” Gowers said.

As the only emergency shelter in Simcoe County that serves youth, the opportunity to increase the number of young people they are able to serve is a big deal. 

“Hopefully by this time next year we will be in our new home and celebrating, and inviting the community to come through and see what they were actually able to achieve, because this is not just Youth Haven, our board or the volunteers," said Gowers. 

"This is a community build. We need the community to get behind us. We can’t have our youth end up on the streets."