A shelter by default

When Fay Vienneau moved to Taylor Street, she wasn’t planning on running a youth shelter. But it wasn’t long until her 14-year-old…

When Fay Vienneau moved to Taylor Street, she wasn’t planning on running a youth shelter.

But it wasn’t long until her 14-year-old daughter started bringing home friends who had no place to go.

“She’d ask if they could stay with us, and my heart went out to them,” said Vienneau.

“I couldn’t say no.”

Soon she had youth ages 13 to 17 flowing through her door.

“They had no money, no place to stay, and were hungry,” said Vienneau.

“Some had no clothes.”

Vienneau ended up spending her own money on toiletries, clothes and food for the kids.

“And I went broke,” she said.

Her $18-an-hour job wasn’t enough — Vienneau started frequenting Maryhouse and the Salvation Army trying to get food for the teens.

Despite the hospitality, Vienneau had her computer, clothes and car stolen.

“I was out of town and they took my car for a three-day joyride,” she said.

The computer was taken off her desk one day and was never returned.

“But I have no animosity toward them, despite the trouble,” said Vienneau.

These youth have varying backgrounds, some come from abusive homes and others just need to get away for a day or two, she said.

“There are many reasons why they leave. But they are all kids crying out and there needs to be more support in place for them.

“People want to just stick their heads in the sand and ignore this growing problem.”

The neighbourhood was rough, added Vienneau.

There were drug dealers on her street — it was not a good place to be raising a family, she said.

Vienneau’s daughter started acting out.

“She was picking up behaviours — it was her way of surviving downtown.”

After a year, Vienneau moved to Granger.

It saved her family, she said.

But Vienneau remains worried about the homeless youth who hang out downtown.

“What’s sad is some of the little girls,” she said. “A lot of them get assaulted and raped.”

One girl, who’d stayed with Vienneau several times, showed up on her doorstep one day after she’d been assaulted.

“I brought her to emergency,” said Vienneau.

“She was 15.”

Many of the girls who stayed with her talked about trading sex for shelter.

“I know a 14-year-old who needed smokes and something to eat and turned around and gave a guy a blowjob for it,” she said.

“Sex has become a method of barter.”

Vienneau hadn’t heard of Skookum Jim Friendship Centre’s youth shelter pilot project.

Running since March, the centre offers beds at Alcohol and Drug Services to youth 17 through 20.

“I was not aware,” she said.

“And the kids are smart, if they were aware of the Skookum Jim (pilot project) I would have heard about it.”

And it doesn’t help, she added.

Offering beds to 17- to 20-year-olds and “calling that a youth shelter is a joke.”

It’s not just 17-year-olds trading sex for shelter, it’s 14-year-olds, she said.

Besides, at 18, kids can qualify for social assistance, said Vienneau.

“There’s nothing in place to save these kids that need it most.”

There are more services for adults, who can go to the Salvation Army or Social Services or Kaushee’s Place, she said.

“But what about the forgotten kids who are 13 to 18?”

The proposed Angel’s Nest shelter wouldn’t help the younger kids either, since it is aimed at youth 18 and over.

And purchasing the Hide on Jeckell hostel to become the shelter is a bad idea, added Vienneau.

It is not a good environment for kids — “it seems alcohol and drugs are more prevalent in that area.”

It’s ridiculous to assume youth homelessness is not a problem, she added.

“All you have to do is drive around downtown at 11 p.m. and you’ll see all the kids looking for a place.”

There were times Vienneau wished she could just shut her door and ignore the problem.

“But my daughter is caring and compassionate and she’d call with friends looking for a place — and I knew some were thieves, and I wanted to say no, but if I said no and those kids on the street got raped, I couldn’t live with my guilt.”

It seems like there’s a lot of talk about shelters, but no action and very little support from government, said Vienneau.

“People don’t know how to deal with it, so it’s easier to turn and look the other way.

“How many kids have to die, or get hooked on drugs and become a problem for society, before this town jumps up and says we need to do something?”