The Iron Horse Youth Safe House opened its doors in Maple Ridge in 2005, when the Alouette Home Start Society decided that homeless youth in Maple Ridge needed a place of their own where they could go to get back on track.

“Everyone has a right to a home, and youth are especially vulnerable.” Stephanie Ediger, executive director of Iron Horse, explained, “It’s hard enough to be a teenager – they just don’t have the coping skills. They end up preyed upon and taken advantage of. You can’t put youth in an emergency shelter with adults for just these reasons.”

Iron Horse has five bedrooms, as well as one 24-hour emergency bed, and while youth may come from other safe houses, or from the ministry, many children are self-referred.

Youth can stay for up to 30 days, and in that time, devoted staff members work with the kids to find them another more permanent place to stay, whether it back with their parents, independent living or foster care.

“While they’re here we support them getting to school, staying in school, and we liaise with other service providers – the goal is, once they’re finished here, they go to another stable place,” Stephanie said. “This is a really vulnerable time in their lives and they need intensive support.”

“We focus a lot on staff training. Building staff capacity and having resources on hand so that the staff are equipped to be supportive is so important.” Because the kids need supervision, there is 24-hour staffing at Iron Horse, and during that time staff members help teach the kids valuable life skills.

“The kids help out with the cooking, do laundry, keeping their room clean. We teach them to shop and to budget – basically we’re teaching them how to be good tenants.”

Iron Horse’s funding contract is renewed year by year and so it is hard to make long term plans when money is tight and mere existence precarious. “The funding we do get is for the most basic needs,” Stephanie explained, “And funding is never assured.”

Looking forward though, the Alouette Home Start Society is hoping to raise money for transitional housing, wherein the youth would pay a small rent, buy their own food and be responsible for themselves, albeit with a great deal of support from the Society.

In 2005, Iron Horse received a grant for $500 from the Maple Ridge Community Foundation in order to buy Castle Rock Educational Books; study guides formulated to aid children facing extraordinary challenges.

“Community foundations are so important to help support non-profits in the community. We just want the public to know what is going on and that we need help from the community to leverage government funding. It is so important.”

Story by Julie MacIsaac

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