Emergency shelter for young women marks 30 years in St. John's

Naomi Centre has been providing safe and temporary housing for young women in Newfoundland and Labrador for three decades.

Former Naomi Centre resident now works with troubled youth 25 years after availing of services

Jill Peckford (left) and Melendy Muise are celebrating 30 years of the Naomi Centre in St. John's helping young women in crisis. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

For 30 years Naomi Centre has been providing safe and temporary housing for young women in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Twenty-five years ago, Melendy Muise was one of those women in crisis needing a place to stay.

"I was 16 years old and I was going through a lot of stuff at the time … I was using drugs, hanging out with people I probably shouldn't have been hanging out with. I found myself in the middle of the night in a crisis, wasn't really sure where to go or what I should do," Muise told CBC's Here & Now.

The centre has been changing the lives of young women, ages 16 to 30. 1:59

"I left home and then I realized I didn't really have anywhere to go."

Muise called a counsellor she had been seeing and he directed her to Naomi Centre in St. John's. The emergency shelter sent a cab for Muise that night and she ended up staying there on and off for about four years.

"So I was here sometimes months at a time, sometimes weeks, sometimes days," she said.

"I think it changed my life in a lot of positive ways. I finally was able to make contact with a group that had my best interests at heart … I always thought the adults in my life always just had their own interests at heart … so this group was really specific in helping me and what was good for me."

While Muise said she has a good relationship with her family now as an adult, at the time she didn't have a safe person to turn to in times of trouble. Today, Musie works at Thrive in St. John's with a program called CASEY — the Coalition Against the Sexual Exploitation of Youth.

Through her job, she speaks to young people about her experiences and guides them through life's challenges. 

Sometimes she sees herself in the youth she helps.

"[There was a young girl] ... she was kind of like me, really guarded. She had her hood up, she wasn't really making a lot of eye contact. She was tough. She was really resilient, but I could tell she wasn't trusting or going to be open," Muise said.

"And gradually, as I started to tell her my story, the hood came down, she kind of relaxed a bit. She made eye contact, she spoke with me. And after we talked she actually came up and hugged me."

30 years of support

Jill Peckford, program director at Naomi Centre, said women turn to the shelter for a variety of reasons, including mental health and addiction issues. The centre is open to women ages 16 to 30.

"We had a young woman stay with us this year. She was 18 years old and she was recently evicted from where she was living. And when she came to Naomi Centre, she was living with an unmanaged mental illness." she said.

"We were able to connect her with a doctor and they were able to develop a treatment plan and then we helped her find some safe and affordable housing in the community where she's living on her own independently."

Peckford said 21 per cent of its residents turn to Naomi Centre after a family or relationship breakdown. She said once residents leave the shelter, they are welcome back weekly for a meal and to get support from staff.

"We've certainly been a safe place for young women to go over the 30 years when they've had no other place to go. It's really challenging to make positive changes in your life when you don't have a safe place to lay your head at night," Peckford said.

"We give them a safe and supportive place to live and connect them with services in the community."

With files from Here & Now