Nearly 25 years after SideDoor was founded in the basement of Yellowknife’s Anglican Church, the non-profit dedicated to preventing and ending youth homelessness continues to be a haven, helpline and home for many.
The community-based Christian youth ministry provides at-risk youth with emergency and transitional housing, support services and lifestyle development programs through two main streams: Resource Centre 4 YOUth – an inclusive meeting place where 15 to 24 year olds can access resources for mental health and addiction, housing and tenancy, literacy, employment and life skills and more – and Hope’s Haven.
The latter, a 24-hour emergency shelter and transitional housing centre for teens aged 15 to 19, was founded by Iris Hamlyn.
“I have a passion for people,” said Hamlyn, who served on SideDoor’s board of directors for nearly a decade before becoming executive director in 2014.
After working in the corporate world for almost two decades, Hamlyn received her Masters in Business Administration.
She knew she wanted to do more than “advancing the cause of the affluent.”
“I wanted to make a difference – to impact change. I am able to that in this role,” she said.
Hope’s Haven uses a “holistic” approach that focuses on harm reduction, recovery and trauma to prevent and halt recurring homelessness among young people.
Hamlyn told Yellowknifer she started Hope’s Haven because she knew there “had to be a better way to transition youth from the system.”
To ensure those who have regained housing stay housed, a team of “youth in transition workers,” and peer support workers provide services including case planning, tutoring and practical skills training.
Meals are served 365 days a year. Youth can do their laundry and shower, pick up harm reduction supplies, participate in one-on-one counselling, attend AA and addiction meetings – or just hang out.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” said Hamlyn.
Gauging success in a youth-serving organization in complex, but Hamlyn said her favourite part of the job is seeing young people succeed.
“It’s not a job, it is a privilege,” she said.
The non-profit has also undertaken a plan, dubbed Homeless2HOPE, to end youth homelessness in Yellowknife. The Sidedoor project is backed by A Way Home National Coalition, a collective Hamlyn is involved with as a member of a leadership team. The coalition aims to eradicate youth homelessness.
Looking ahead, Hamlyn plans to continue with her goal of securing more funding to expand SideDoor programs.
“Investing in youth can stop homelessness,” she said. “Having an emergency shelter was a start, but my vision was to see youth autonomous, living where they chose, with whomever they choose.”
To key events are on the horizon for the non-profit. On Sept. 11, the annual general meeting will be held at the SideDoor Resource Centre for YOUth, located on the corner of 50 Street and 49 Avenue – across from the RCMP detachment.
The yearly gathering will seek to bring in new, passionate board members with experience in youth homelessness, administration, public relations and fundraising.
The YOUth in the Cold Fundraiser will take place on March 20 of next year, which will gather funds to explore solutions on how to “safely house youth who are trans and queer,” said Hamlyn.
“We are exploring housing options and support for all youth and feel that this population can be served better, with specific support,” she said. “We are hoping to partner with other youth-serving organizations.”