Vital People: Sanctuary Youth Centre is a safe haven for vulnerable young people

WatchSanctuary Youth Centre offers help and hope to vulnerable young people. Tess van Straaten has the details in this week's Vital People.

Alicia was on the streets and staying in shelters when she was just 14-years-old.

“I didn’t think I would ever be on the streets or struggling with a heroin addiction,” Alicia says. “But it’s just so easy and it could be anybody, really.”

The downward spiral started after she began hanging out downtown and got into the wrong crowd.

“It’s really hard being so young and not really knowing what you’re doing or what’s next, or where you’re going to stay,” says Alicia.

But Alicia found help — and hope — at the Sanctuary Youth Centre, a drop-in centre for vulnerable youth in the basement of the Church of our Lord in downtown Victoria.

“We support youth in providing them a safe place to come, to hang out, and be themselves and just let their guard down,” says Sanctuary Youth Centre executive director Darin Reimer.

Sanctuary’s had around 40,000 youth visits in the last 16 years and has warm meals, showers, and laundry facilities, as well as activities to engage youth like weight lifting, boxing, and a pool table.

“Boredom is a trigger,” explains Darin. “And what do kids do when they’re bored? A lot of them they get into trouble and it spirals from there.”

That’s been especially true during the pandemic, with boredom and isolation taking a big toll on young people and their mental health.

“It was really lonely and I was back at my parent’s house,” says Alicia. “Because I was like so lonely and I was in quarantine, I found that I was dabbling into things like heroin, and a lot harder things, than if I was to be out socializing.”

And sadly, due to the worsening overdose crisis, far too many young lives have been lost — including youth Sanctuary’s tried to help.

“There was a lot of overdose and drug toxicity deaths and in particular, since November, we’ve seen three young people that we know and work closely with pass away and so that’s been a difficult part,” an emotional Darin says.

Sanctuary, which is supported by 10 local churches, Harbourside Rotary and grants, is trying to help by extending its hours and opening two extra days a week.

“We do see mental health as a huge issue and we’re trying to alleviate that by providing youth with community, a safe place to come and to talk to someone if they need to, and to let them know that they’re not alone.”

As for Alicia, she’s now been sober for four months, thanks to the support she got from Sanctuary.

“They’ve helped me a lot with treatment planning, and going to treatment and getting sober,” Alicia says. “They’ve just helped me a lot and I like how they help other youth.”

May 2-8 is Mental Health Week. To learn more, click on this link.

Tess van Straaten

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