Saskatchewan

A community building together: Swift Current opens youth homeless shelter

Hundreds of volunteers in Swift Current recently came together to build a new homeless youth shelter — a project that has been struggling to get off the ground for years — to honour a woman who always put others before herself.

'I wanted to do something nice for my mom': said Tom Westbury, who spearheaded the build

Tom Westbury stands in front of Swift Current's new youth emergency homeless shelter, which is named for his mother. Westbury took four months off work to lead a team of community volunteers through the building project. (Submitted by Tom Westbury)

Hundreds of volunteers in Swift Current recently came together to build a new homeless youth shelter — a project that has been struggling to get off the ground for years — to honour a woman who always put others before herself.

Southwest Youth Emergency Shelter Inc. will operate 'Dorie's House' — a 24-hour, eight bedroom, co-ed emergency shelter that will offer at risk teens a safe place to stay.

"There's a huge need for something like this," said Betty McDougall, the shelter's executive director.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Betty McDougall of the community support for Dorie's House over the past few months. Here, she's standing with a group of children who raised $750 for the shelter through a lemonade stand. (Submitted by Betty McDougall)

An uphill battle

McDougall has been trying to get an emergency youth shelter built since March, 2014 — after she spent two years researching youth homelessness in southwest Saskatchewan as part of the Southwest Street Culture Founding Committee.

"Guidance counsellors and teachers told me they could refer 16 to 20 kids to the shelter immediately, and that the need was probably higher."

However, McDougall and the rest of the Southwest Youth Emergency Shelter board ran into trouble when it came to funding the project, originally asking the province for a $600,000 annual budget, with $400,000 going towards staffing costs.

According to McDougall, that request was denied, and the board spend the next couple of years trying to cobble together money through different fundraising projects — but things weren't looking good.

'I wanted to do something nice for my mom'

In April of 2016, everything changed. That's when Tom Westbury, who owns a local plumbing company, got wind of the project.

"I wanted to do something nice for my mom, Dorie, who passed away," said Westbury.

"My mom put everybody in front of herself, and kids were her whole life." he said.  

"We lived in a 600 square-foot home with five kids, and she still took kids in that didn't have anywhere to stay."

When Westbury heard about the shelter project from his wife, "and about how it was suffering and going nowhere," he knew it was the perfect opportunity to do something in his mother's honour.

"I approached my business partner to see if I could get people in my industry together, and there wasn't one person that said 'no.'

"Once I had six or seven contractors on board... I didn't even have to leave my office, people just came to me wanting to help."

Westbury said local businesses and community members donated nearly all the building materials, and "the restaurants got on board to feed the trades people, volunteers would help clean up, build and provide food as well."

Community members and local business donated everything from building materials and appliances to food and toiletries. (Submitted by Betty McDougall)

'It means the world to me'

"It's set to open here on Sunday, and it means the world to me," said Westbury of the finished project. 

Community members tour the new building. (Submitted by Betty McDougall)

While Westbury had a great time building the shelter, he's happy to know it will now help young people in the community — something his mother would be proud of.

"Every kid [Dorie's House] saves, it will be like my mom's saving another kid."

A hopeful future

The Southwest Youth Emergency Shelter board is still applying for stable funding, but in the meantime, McDougall is hopeful.

"I've had requests from counsellors, and I suspect we are going to have more requests for access than beds, so I'm hopeful that will demonstrate the need for this shelter to the provincial government."

Until then, McDougall said the board will rely on "the mortgage, we'll also be looking at acquiring sponsorships, and doing fundraisers; our community has stepped up to do fundraisers on our behalf."

Dorie's House will officially open Sunday to young people between the ages of 14 and 17. 

"Our goal is to get them set up with a circle of community supports, help them find their feet, and a permanent place to live," said McDougall. 

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