An emotional outpouring of support was given to Dorie’s House during a community rally on March 28, just days after the Southwest Youth Emergency Shelter was denied funding in the upcoming provincial budget.
Tom Westbury, who oversaw the construction of Dorie’s House, which was named in honour of his mother, organized the rally. He is hoping providing a loud voice behind the rejected funding will help change the mind of government.
Dorie’s House provided housing support for teens between the ages of 14 and 18 at their eight bed facility from January 15 to October of 2017.
“I just don’t understand how a whole corner of a province can join together and build this house, and the government does not want anything to do with it,” Westbury said at the kickoff of the rally.
“When we announced the house was going to be closing in October, there were six youth living in here,” he told the audience. “It tore my heart into two.”
Westbury said he went to speak with then Premier Brad Wall shortly after the closure and it was agreed the province would re-assess the issue of youth homelessness in the Southwest. And while the Ministry of Social Services did reassess Dorie’s House, they formally rejected the funding request earlier this month.
“But the Ministry has failed. They see that there is no problem. But everybody here is behind me. And that’s what we’ve got to do right now, is we’ve got to get as loud as we can and send as many letters as we can. And we need to stand up for our youth,” Westbury said.
Two Swift Current youth, who found themselves homeless in the past few years, shared their personal stories of not having a place to turn.
“The reason I’m so passionate about seeing Dorie’s House open and funded is because I don’t want other kids or teenagers ending up like I did, without somewhere to go, having to sleep on benches, struggling for a sandwich everyday, wondering if something good will come. I want them to have somewhere to turn to, a warm bed to sleep in, food for them to eat. I wouldn’t wish anyone to live on the streets,” explained a teen named Alex.
And while there was no Dorie’s House when Alex was on the streets for a short period of time, he pointed out the facility made a huge different for people he know who stayed there.
“The worst time was when I had no car, and no one would let me sleep on their couch. I had no friends that would help me out. So I had to resort to sleeping underneath the bleachers of the Skate Park, in the middle of winter.”
A second teen, Tristan, was one of the teens who utilized the facility for a time during the eight and a half months that it was open.
“I know there are many kids that need this in our community, I was one of them.”
He told the crowd he was living a lifestyle he is not proud of, and describes it as a “rough time” where he was caught up in the moment. He was in a negative head space when he first went to Dorie’s House, and when he did not follow the rules of the facility, he was kicked out two days, and he asked to sleep in a friend’s car during that period.
“When I came back, with the help of Chantelle and the other staff, I started to make different choices that led me down a better path and showed me a different way, as well as helping me get into Maverick where I’m currently working towards graduation.”
“Dorie’s House gave me a place to stay when there was no where else to go. And then it closed. When Dorie’s House was forced to close it’s doors, I was back on the streets, and now it was winter times. For the next few nights I slept inside Tim Hortons until I was arrested for breaching curfew and was taken back to Regina once again.”
“I do not want other kids to have to go through what I did, and if Dorie’s House was open today, they would always have a place to go.”
“I hope by sharing my story with you today it will help open your eyes to the reality facing young people in our city, and that everyone deserves a second chance and an opportunity to change. As I have learned, there is always hope for tomorrow.”
Shaun Hanna, who serves as President of the Southwest Youth Emergency Shelter Inc. Board of Directors, was pleased to see the strong community support behind Wednesday’s rally.
“Again we’re overwhelmed with the community support,” Hanna said. “It does not surprise me that there’s a community swelling of support again.”
He said members from Southwest YES have been actively involved in discussions with the provincial government to secure funding over the past six months, but they were turned down for funding earlier in March.
“Now that it has come out that we’re not receiving funding, it doesn’t surprise me that there’s going to be some push back from the community because they have skin in the game, this is about our future and about our kids.”
Hanna is disappointed that the funding has been rejected, one in a long line of rejected proposals over the past number of years, despite the Southwest continually taking aim at an identified concern in the region.
“The stated reason, and this has been true for 30 years or more, is that the Ministry of Social Services doesn’t see a need for something like this to exist. And to whatever extent there is a need, it’s being handled.”
He is concerned that despite the results of the case study while Dorie’s House was open for eight and a half months, Social Services continue to under estimate the problem of youth homelessness.
“What they don’t tell you is that they’re actually not also tracking the need,” Hanna said. “So when we talking about youth homelessness, it’s not just people on the street.”
“They’re not tracking kids that are couch surfing. They’re not tracking kids that are in inappropriate housing.”
He added that Dorie’s House provides a level of services which are not being provided by other youth programs in the community. Fresh Start and The Center, while both important community organizations, have youth focused mandates that are not the same as to what they offer.
“But they’re not overnight programs. They’re not emergency housing,” Hanna said.
“We are not suggesting for a minute that for us to be funded somebody else must be defunded. The organizations that exist in this community provide an invaluable service to our youth as it pertains to their own lanes.”
“But what we offer is something truly unique and truly different. We are a conduit for service, for both males and females between 14 and 17, so that they can live up to their true potential.”