Swift Current youth shelter set to close doors after lack of operating funds

Dorie's House, an emergency youth shelter in Swift Current, Sask., will close on Oct. 4, less than a year after it opened, because of a financial shortfall.

Premier Brad Wall says organizers knew before construction there was no budget to help

Tom Westbury stands in front of Dorie's House, the Swift Current youth emergency homeless shelter that was named for his mother. The shelter is set to close Oct. 4 because of a funding shortfall. (Submitted by Tom Westbury)

An emergency shelter for at-risk teens in southern Saskatchewan is slated to close less than a year after it opened because of a financial shortfall.

Dorie's House opened its doors in January, after people in Swift Current, Sask., volunteered months of their time to make the facility a reality.

The 24-hour, eight-bedroom co-ed facility is operated by Southwest Youth Emergency Shelter Inc.

It's an upsetting time, but at the same time we are resolved and we're not giving up.- Bob Hale, Southwest Youth Emergency Shelter board chair

Staff are trying to find solutions for the youth currently at the shelter before it closes Oct. 4, said Southwest Youth Emergency Shelter board chair Bob Hale.

"I believe they are upset, of course, and worried about where things will go," Hale said, noting the shelter was a place of stability for many. "I think a lot of them feel like they are back to square one."

Hale said the shelter has had more than 500 bed stays and given shelter to 27 youth so far. Furthermore, the shelter has helped teens who needed support but not necessarily a place to stay overnight.

There are 15 staff members at Dorie's House and six of them are full-time employees. It costs between $30,000 and $40,000 each month to run the facility, which has been operating entirely on community support, Hale said.

Plea for provincial funding

Despite the looming closure, staff and board members aren't ready to say it's over, Hale said. 

"It's an upsetting time, but at the same time we are resolved and we're not giving up. This project is too important."

The shelter has operated without provincial assistance since it opened. 

"The community has stepped up, the staff at the shelter have been absolutely fantastic. The families have come to us for assistance, so we feel it's time for government to step up," Hale said.

Dorie's House staff previously applied for provincial government financial support, but it was denied because officials said there wasn't a need for the shelter — or that need was being met by other services in the community, Hale said.

"That's why we opened as a bit of faith and also as a bit of a pilot project, to see what the need is," he said.

Province told organizers no money was coming

According to a email statement sent Friday from Social Services Minister Paul Merriman, Dorie's House was built despite organizers knowing there was no money to pay for operating costs. 

Premier and Swift Current representative Brad Wall took to Facebook to echo that sentiment. 

Wall said the group went through the same funding request process as other organizations and met with officials from the province and the Ministry of Social Services when it was first submitted. 

"This group was informed before they started construction that if they proceeded, they needed to do so knowing there was no guarantee, nor existing budget room, for their request for operating funds. That was made clear," Wall writes.

Success for clients, board chair says

The need for the shelter has been evident and youth have come from the all around the southwest, Hale said, adding the shelter is the only one in the area to offer immediate emergency care to vulnerable youth.

He said the shelter has seen success amongst its young clients.

"We've had kids back at school who were not in school because they didn't have sort of that stability in their background," he said. "They've been able to connect with school and jobs and really become an active part of the community."

The supports provided by the shelter touch on the areas of social services, health, justice and education, so it would like to see a funding format that acknowledges those connections, he said.

Hale said the shelter has been directed to work with the Ministry of Social Services.

"The provincial government certainly has that desire to help young people in our communities," he said.

"We have a facility and an opportunity to help young people here. In the end, we're all pulling in the same direction."