KENTVILLE - Imagine having no fixed address, no guaranteed safe space to sleep at night.
Russ Sanche, director of The Portal Youth Outreach Centre in Kentville, knows firsthand that many of the youth he’s worked with don’t have a hard time imagining what this would be like. They’ve lived it.
“Our desire is to ensure that the community is aware that couch surfing is not a safe option. At the beginning it might seem like nothing and, if you know the people well that you're staying with, you're probably perfectly safe,” said Sanche.
“But as time goes on, for the youth that's couch surfing, they're vulnerable to criminal exploitation, sexual exploitation, loneliness, isolation, depression, and a greater disconnect… from others. When we, as a community, know that someone's couch surfing, we need to speak up and we need to help them access the support they need.”
Sanche believes families on the brink of a breakdown deserve care and compassion from those around them.
“When a family is struggling and it's looking like they're heading towards some kind of breakdown, we need to, without judgment, lend a helping hand and also help them to get support. This is not completely a government problem; it's our problem.”
The Portal is challenging the community to be a part of The Shelter Project from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. The project aims to shine a light on youth homelessness by challenging members of the public to spend a shift in a makeshift outdoor shelter that will be set up at 437 Main Street in Kentville.
“Shelter Project is about raising awareness around youth homelessness. We hope the project helps people to identify with some of the factors that contribute to youth homelessness and also the challenges of sleeping in a makeshift shelter when you don't have a roof over your head,” said Sanche.
“There is, at any one time, 50-plus youth couch surfing in Kings County alone - over 100 at risk of being homeless.”
This year, The Shelter Project will run in conjunction with Home Depot’s Orange Door Campaign, a national movement spanning from Nov. 30 to Dec. 17 that aims to end youth homelessness.
“We need a provincial strategy to end youth homelessness. There are four main things we need to see: prevention, compassionate response with rapid rehousing, zero eviction policy, critical and relational supports for youth that we do find housing for,” said Sanche, who cited a lack of affordable housing as a key issue within the Annapolis Valley.
“Prevention can occur when we work together with child welfare and community stakeholders and regular folks in the community to identify when things are going off kilter with a family. They need respite and they need intervention (and) mediation and support.”
Anyone interested in completing a shift for The Shelter Project can sign up by visiting the shelter, or registering through www.portalyouth.ca.
The Portal’s 10-year plan to end youth homelessness can be viewed here: www.youthhomelessnomore.ca.