If she had the staff, Vicki Durrant would have homeless youth filling the former Hide on Jeckell hostel by the end of the week.
“I’d have kids in here tonight if I could,” she said.
Blue Feather Youth Centre’s executive director has taken over the 22-bed building in a lease-to-own agreement that was signed November 7.
Before she went missing, 19-year-old Blue Feather employee Angel Carlick was helping establish a shelter for homeless youth, said Durrant, who is naming the shelter Angel’s Nest.
“Her body was found on November 8 (2007) and we got possession on the 7th, so I think she’s still helping us.”
Durrant originally planned to purchase the hostel with the help of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, but before she could get the forgivable loan, she needed a three-year commitment from the Yukon government to cover operation and maintenance costs.
The government turned down the request.
But Durrant didn’t give up.
“We’ve raised close to $100,000 already,” she said, mentioning their puzzle-piece fundraising campaign and private donations.
Lying on a coffee table in the front room were five giant cardboard cheques.
Kwanlin Dun and Carcross Tagish First Nations had each donated $6,500, while First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun donated $1,000.
The Ta’an Kwach’an Council donated two cabins, each worth $20,000, to be raffled and auctioned and the Anglican Church gave Blue Feather $30,000.
“The archbishop figures God set this up for us,” said Durrant, showing off the clean, fully furnished rooms with their wooden bunks, complete with bedding and towels.
A library, computer room with computers, a laundry, four and a half bathrooms, a spacious kitchen and fenced yard complete the picture.
Set up for travellers, the kitchen has a shelf with 22 bins decorated with pictures of endangered animals. Those pictures match others on beds, allowing visitors to track food ownership. The fridge has similar bins. Durrant plans to leave much of this system intact.
The hostel also left Durrant 22 bikes and helmets, its CD collection and plenty of board games.
Blue Feather is paying $3,000 a month and plans to return to government to request operations and maintenance costs.
But it doesn’t plan to run the shelter.
“There are so many organizations with youth programs that already exist,” said Durrant, mentioning Skookum Jim Friendship Centre’s youth shelter pilot program, Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services and Kwanlin Dun First Nation.
“I want to pull these together and I hope they deliver programs out of the shelter,” she said.
She also hopes an existing organization will administer the shelter programming, hire and train staff and work with other organizations to establish support programming and maybe bring counsellors in.
This will all be overseen by the shelter’s advisory board, she said.
“Our goal is to have First Nations run the shelter,” said Durrant, who approached Kwanlin Dun, Carcross/Tagish and the Council of Yukon First Nations.
They weren’t ready yet, but in several years a First Nation may take it over once it becomes clear which youth are using it, she said.
“This place is a perfect place to go,” said elder Lucy Jackson, who was at the open house on Monday.
“It gives young people a place to go other than the street, where they’re doing whatever they’re addicted to.
“They can read a book, do a jigsaw or maybe cook a meal.”
It’s too bad the Yukon government doesn’t support the shelter, said Jackson.
“I wish (Premier Dennis) Fentie and (Social Services Minister Glenn) Hart — the whole government — would go spend a night on the streets, just to have an idea what it’s like.”
The shelter will accept youth 18 and older.
“But we won’t turn anyone away,” said Durrant.
However, if younger youth need a bed, the shelter will have to contact their legal guardians, to avoid problems with youth running away and using the shelter as a foil, she said.
Durrant isn’t worried about discipline.
“I work with the highest-risk kids in Whitehorse and as long as they know their boundaries there aren’t many problems,” she said.
Durrant hopes the shelter is up and running by the end of the month.
If there isn’t government support, Blue Feather may have to follow the outreach van’s example, when it first started out, and get donations from various organizations.
“But I hope not,” she said.
“The youth who are here need to feel secure; they need consistency and to not have staff coming in and out of their lives.”
Durrant mentioned one 16-year-old girl who needed a place last winter.
She didn’t use Skookum Jim’s pilot program because she needed more than just a bed for a night, said Durrant.
The girl ended up living with a much older man who gave her housing and food.
He also got her hooked on crack and left her pregnant.
“If this shelter existed, I know young girls who would have come here instead of going to some old man that says, ‘Here have a bed,’” said Durrant.
Contact Genesee Keevil at firstname.lastname@example.org