A program offered to City youth seeking shelter is gearing up for a steady season ahead.
The Youth Winter Inn is a program for young people aged 14-17 years who are homeless and under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is the fourth year the program has been offered in the City and it recently opened its doors for the season in Red Deer.
The Youth Winter Inn operates seven days a week and is open from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m. at the Youth and Volunteer Centre. Youth can be referred to the Inn in a variety of ways including self-referral, RCMP referral, family referral, Central Alberta Child and Family Services and others.
The Inn offers seven mats and up to four or five are occupied each night.
In 2011, close to 30 youth accessed the program. From the numbers from last year it was identified that there is an ongoing need in the community for this program where youth who cannot access the 49th St. Youth Shelter or other existing resources. The 49th St. Youth Shelter is a dry shelter, very similar to the adult shelters in Red Deer, which leaves teens under the influence with fewer options than their sober peers.
“A homeless count was done in Red Deer back in October and it identified that there was a high percentage of homeless youth,” said Rose Hatfield, program manager for the Youth Winter Inn program. “These youth have multiple issues that they are trying to deal with that may result in them ending up on the streets.”
While youth stay at the Inn, the main goal is to connect them with resources and to try and get them into stable housing whether it is the youth shelter, returning home or other available options.
“Even if there are only one or two kids who are out there homeless, that could be one or two kids who freeze to death in the winter,” said Hatfield. “If we save one or two kids from the cold elements, then I think that we have been successful.”
Donations are important to the success and sustainability of the Youth Winter Inn.
“It is great that we have funders who realize the need to be able to provide a safe and warm place to youth that are homeless or in a crisis during the cold winter months,” said David Murphy, executive director of Red Deer Youth and Volunteer.
Donations of items such as socks, mitts and hats are always needed to help keep the teens warm. The Inn tries to have backpacks that they can put personal items in such as a dry pair of socks, an extra pair of mittens, toothbrush and toothpaste — everyday items that will help the teens during the daylight hours.
“We certainly would consider anything for a donation to help support the kids,” said Hatfield.
Other things that they can always use are things like non-perishable food items, juice packs, granola bars and chunky soups. With these items youth can have access to a free snack or even something to help keep them warm such as hot chocolate or a bowl of soup.
Another service that the Inn offers to keep the kids warm is a dry sock exchange where a youth can hand in a pair of old socks and get a fresh pair of dry socks in exchange. “This way their feet are warm,” said Hatfield. “The issue that we are dealing with, with homelessness, particularly with youth, really needs community awareness and support to help us address this issue.”
The Youth Winter Inn also needs the community to financially support them. “Every year (the funding) is not definite. We have to apply for the funding every year.”
To make a donation to the Youth Winter Inn contact the Youth and Volunteer Centre at 403-342-6500.