Bridgewater home for homeless youth closure sparks concerns
Empire House slated to close June 30
The impending closure of the Empire House, a home for homeless youth in Bridgewater, has some people concerned where future homeless youth will go.
The organization has operated out of its Empire Street building for 12 years and houses five youths at a time. The facility requires young people to stay in school and helps them transition to a more stable life.
The Department of Community Services runs the facility, which is slated to close June 30.
Vicki Wood, the executive director for children, youth and family supports with the department, said the government is still working on a plan that would see the building become part of a community-based organization. She said such organizations in other parts of the province serve a larger number of youth and are able to address a broader range of problems.
"They serve up to 200 to 300 young people a year, so it could be a range of issues and if a young person has housing needs we’ll work with them and help them find housing," she said.
"We'll still be offering programs from that location but they won't be 24/7. Those details are still being worked out with the local community agency that wold be making use of services."
Wood said youths who need shelter may be housed with local families or in apartments financed by the Department of Community Services.
In the meantime, a youth outreach worker will be in place by July 1.
For 16-year-old Vanessa Rines, Empire House was what she needed when she was no longer able to live at home. She said the staff are amazing and the program was welcoming.
"It's a place where you're safe," she said. "It's a home. It's been amazing. The people here are so nice. The structure here is what people like us need."
Rines said she will move to Phoenix Youth in Halifax when the program ends.
"I'm not happy about the closure," she said.
"This is what people need. Who knows next year how many teenagers will be out on the streets in Bridgewater? They're not going to have a place like this."
Rines isn't the only one expressing concern. Sarah Wentzel is a lifelong resident of Bridgewater who wants to see Empire House remain open.
"This is giving kids a place to stay and a place to lay their head at night," she said.