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Homeless youth 'all too common' in Abbotsford

When Dave was kicked out of his home last fall at the age of 17, he lived in a tent with a friend on an abandoned school property.

It was rainy, and the tent had a hole in the bottom. Sleep was short and fitful.

The pair spent their days staying warm and dry in a nearby fast-food restaurant, sipping on the refillable coffees they had purchased with the little bit of cash a friend would give them.

At night, they would forage for food in a grocery-store dumpster – stale bread was always a welcome find – and, occasionally, they would steal food.

Dave’s existence was focused on mere survival. There was little thought beyond today, and no glimmer of hope for the future.

Les Talvio, executive director of Cyrus Centre for at-risk youth, said Dave’s story is more common than people in Abbotsford would think.

Although exact numbers are not available, Talvio said homeless youth in the community are “all too common.”

He said in the seven years since the centre opened its doors at 2616 Ware St., demand for services has never been so high.

An average of about 60 kids ages 12 to 18 use the centre each day for things such as a hot meal, showering, laundry, life skills and employment coaching.

The centre also provides four emergency-shelter beds, where kids can stay overnight. The beds are always full, meaning young people are often turned away until one becomes available.

“In the last three months, we’ve turned away approximately 60 youth because we’ve been full,” Talvio said.

“Youth that don’t have access to shelter are staying in unsafe situations, whether it’s tenting, in abandoned buildings or couch surfing … Others are having to find resources in other communities far away from Abbotsford.”

Talvio said many share stories similar to Dave’s.

Dave (not his real name) was asked to leave his home for good last fall after numerous times in and out of his house due to conflicts with his stepfather.

He wasn’t working at the time and had no other family members that could take him in. Dave didn’t know where to go for help, or that services even existed. He paired up with a friend who was also homeless, and the two set up their shelter, not realizing that the school grounds were monitored by a caretaker, who called Cyrus Centre.

Staff came to the site and spoke with Dave and his friend, letting them know there was a place they could go for showers and food during the day, although there was a waiting list for a bed.

About two weeks later, space opened up, and the two teens had warm beds to sleep in for the night. It was the deepest, longest sleep Dave had had in weeks.

He stayed at Cyrus Centre for about a month. Meanwhile, a “plan of care” was established, which included connecting Dave with a social worker, who arranged finances and helped him find an apartment.

He is now looking for work and hopes to go back to school – first, to complete his Grade 12 and then to pursue a trade. Dave now has hope for his future.

“I think about that all the time – what it used to be like. It’s night and day between then and now,” he said.

WALK THIS WAY

Cyrus Centre is participating in the “Coldest Night of the Year Walk,” one of 20 taking place across Canada, on Saturday, Feb. 23.

The walk leaves from Sevenoaks Alliance Church (2575 Gladwin Rd.) at 5:15 p.m. Participants can choose from three routes – 2 km, 5 km or 10 km. The goal is to raise $25,000.

For more information, visit coldestnightoftheyear.org/location/abbotsford or call Leah at 604-859-5773.

 

 

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