GUILDFORD — A new extreme-weather site specifically for youth opened for the first time Surrey last week.
Ten beds were set up at Guildford Youth Resource Centre, at 205 14727 108 Ave., beginning Jan. 6 and will be open whenever the city’s extreme-weather response is activated.
The site is run in partnership between Options Community Services Society and Pacific Community Resources Society (PCRS).
Joe Woodworth, senior manager of youth services for Options, said things are off to a slow start, but that's to be expected.
"We're hoping to get the word out," he said. "Youth live in a different world than adults. If an adult needs resources they pick up a phone or go on the internet. Youth talk to their buddies so until the word gets spread through WhatsApp and all the other forums they use the word won't get out.
"We're really hoping the start of this will be the mom out there who has a friend sleeping in her basement. There is a place for these kids to go."
Woodworth said many local youth are going to other municipalities like Vancouver to access services, simply because Surrey is lacking. Fewer are couch surfing, he added, and simply leaving.
"No disrespect to the great City of Vancouver, but youth from Surrey end up on the Downtown East Side and it's quite a culture shock," he said.
Erin Harvie, manager of North Surrey youth services for PCRS, said transportation to the Guildford site is available, if needed, and said the care doesn't end in the morning.
"That continuum of services will follow them. We're not just a stop gap at night when you're cold and hungry," she added. "We want to help youth make those connections and navigate through the system.
"We're seeing more youth homelessness - and more youth who are struggling to make what would be considered traditional connection with the MCFD or undersage income assistance in a timely way. So there's almost a gap in service."
Woodworth praised BC Housing for funding the youth shelter, because typically, they don't because people under 19 are not allowed in shelter environments.
The two community groups are connecting with RCMP, Surrey schools and adult shelters to spread the word but hope the community can help.
At this point, Surrey's extreme weather shelters have been called to open through to Jan. 16.
These 10 emergency shelter spaces join another 115 throughout Surrey and White Rock that are called upon if needed. They include 15 women-only beds at NightShift Street Ministries, 15 at First United Church, 50 on 135A Street run by Lookout Emergency Aid Society, 15 at Cloverdale Community Kitchen and 20 at Surrey Urban Mission.
While the emergency program officially runs from Nov. 1 to March 31, it was called to open early this year during an October storm.
“We usually start in November and get about four or five days, but it started early,” Peter Fedos, Surrey-White Rock extreme weather program manager, said at the time. “So everybody kind of jumped. Frontline staff jumped and got it done. It was awesome. But the City of Surrey, BC Housing and the frontline folks all deserve credit.”
Click here for more information about the extreme weather program.