A “closed” sign on the door of the SideDoor Resource Centre has raised the alarm among some youth who use the facility but the executive director for the youth homelessness service says the closure couldn’t be helped.
A sign was posted on the resource centre door at 4903 50th Street on March 5 stating that the resource centre would be closed “until further notice.”
SideDoor, a non-profit youth Christian ministry, provides employment and academic support, transitional housing and emergency shelter for homeless youth in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Its resource centre provides “employment, academic, and healthy recreation supports to youth in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories,” according to the SideDoor website.
Executive director Iris Notley said Thursday that the resource centre will be closed for most of March but there is no cause for concern as the closing is due to an internal staffing shortage.
“We are short staffed for the month of March,” Notley said. “I can give you a cursory answer now that we closed as we intended to because we are short staffed for the month of March.
“That is all it is. It isn’t anything blown up. We are just short staffed.”
Services can still be accessed for 12 to 19 year olds at the organization’s Hope’s Haven facility, said Notley, adding, “apartments are still open to the youth until the end of of the lease. Which I believe most are ending at the end of the month and the rest next month.”
Notley said this information was communicated to the youth. Accusations appearing on social media accusing her of closing the centre in retaliation to complaints about SideDoor management are unfounded, she stated.
“There is a lot of stuff going on right now and it is just miscommunication,” she said. “I have communicated to the youth that we are closing because of short staffing. I hadn’t given the date because we have one staff on for two weeks for March break because it affects our operations. That is all it is right now.”
Riley Somers, 19, and Kiersten Milnes, 22, two youth using programming at Hope’s Haven, sent a 10-page letter dated Feb. 29 to NNSL Media addressed to directors of the board of SideDoor Youth Ministries. The document, which had a March 2 deadline for a response from the directors, makes more than 20 allegations about management at SideDoor.
Complaints range from poor communication to poor retention of staffing to poor dealings with finances to the sudden expiration of leases for transitional tenants.
“We have to reiterate that this is very serious,” states the letter. “This is our lives. We have been treated unfairly by this organization for many years, and we will no longer accept it. If the board does not offer proper solutions, we will be reaching out to our MLAs and to the media to support us, to ensure that proper action is taken on the evidence provided.”
Further media inquiries to Notley were directed to Pastor Kirk Tastad of the Lutheran Church.
Both Milnes and Somers posted some of their allegations on Facebook, including a Yellowknife Rant and Rave page and on their personal Facebook pages, claiming that the closure had to do with finances of the organization.
Milnes said in an interview that she has been using Hope’s Haven programming since she was 13. She said that there is a lack of clarity when it comes to the financial health of the organization and the poor quality of housing has made her baby daughter sick.
“I have been in the home for youth program and living in one of their apartments and recently got my own unit because I was in a bad building that (they) had us in,” she said. “My daughter was sick with mould.”
Email from board of directors
SideDoor board of directors sent Yellowknifer an email on Friday afternoon stating that the closure of the resource centre is “temporary.” They echoed Notley’s insistence that the closure is due to staffing and not due to finances.
The centre is to open again on March 17.
“There are staff who will be away for scheduled holidays in early March, and others at a conference,” stated the email. “Unfortunately, this impacts our ability to keep both locations open, but again, is only for a short period of time. When something like this happens (as it has in the past), it is to ensure the security of everyone who works at or accesses the facility.”
The resource centre sees about eight to 10 youth every day and are housed in either the Youth in Transition or HOME4U Program, all based in the resource centre, stated the email.
Still the directors say they are aware of the complaints online.
“The SideDoor board has very recently been made aware of some complaints and is actively looking into them,” the email stated. “We are engaging in a process for working through those complaints and will not be commenting on them at this time. The health, safety and well being of our clients and our staff is paramount in how we deliver on our mandate to serve youth here in Yellowknife and the north. We are keeping that front and center.”