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Walkers greet frigid Coldest Night of the Year for Youth Haven

'It was very helpful. I don’t know where I would be without them,' says young man who used Youth Haven's services
Everyone wore a toque in the Barrie City Hall Rotunda on the Coldest Night of the Year, Saturday evening.

Youth Haven’s Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser got no break from the weather Saturday, but that didn’t keep 300-plus people from walking downtown Barrie.

Jim (not his real name) says he knows first-hand the help Youth Haven can be, coming there a little more than two years ago, at age 17 to 18.

“They offered me a home, shelter. They had beds available and food, clothing,” he told BarrieToday. “You can get clean, they have showers for you and on top of that they have resources like housing, and planning for the future.

“And people you can talk to if you’re having a hard time.”

Youth Haven provides vital services that assist youth, ages 16 to 24, experiencing homelessness or at-risk of being homeless in Barrie and the surrounding area.

It operates a 19-bed emergency shelter and provides transitional housing at a separate location, along with outreach services.

The Coldest Night of the Year is Youth Haven’s largest fundraiser, and money raised goes to support programs the organization provides, as well as meals, care packages and more.

“It’s to meet the immediate needs of our youth, to provide them with shelter and food,” said executive director Lucy Gowers. “This gives them every opportunity so they can be the best they can be.”

Jim says Youth Haven’s services made all the difference to him.

“It was very helpful. I don’t know where I would be without them,” he said. “And as an independent youth growing up, being helped by those resources has taken me to where I am now, which is I’m fully independent. 

“I can work on my own now, but I couldn’t have done that without them in the first place.”

The walk began and ended at Barrie City Hall. Walkers had the choice of a two-kilometre or five-kilometre journey through the downtown. At walk’s end, some participants stayed in the city hall's rotunda for light refreshments and a warm snack.

Barrie Youth Haven’s goal this year is to raise $100,000 from the Coldest Night of the Year.

“This is a very good cause,” Jim said. “There are a lot of people who definitely will need it in the future, and people who don’t know maybe some skills yet, they can definitely use Youth Haven as a stepping stone and a resource to help them take that next step into independence.”

The Coldest Night of the Year takes place in more than 150 cities and towns across Canada.

And Youth Haven has other coals in the fire.

Its Wellington Street shelter is to be demolished this spring and replaced with a new facility, which will house approximately 30 youth.

The New Haven for Youth Haven campaign has raised just more than $500,000 of its $2-million goal, Gowers said.

More than 600 youth in the region rely on the support the organization provides.

In the new facility, the upstairs will have 14 bedrooms, housing two youths in each, along with bathrooms and a sitting area.

On the main floor, there will be counselling rooms, meeting space, the main kitchen, a reception area, a doctor's and dentist's office, along with two single rooms for youth with mobility issues, with a ramp leading up to the main entrance.

The lower level will have laundry, storage and a single bedroom.

The Kiwanis Club of Barrie has donated $100,000 to the New Haven for Youth Haven campaign, and another $10,000 is coming from the Kiwanis Foundation of Canada.

There will also be in-kind gifts from the Simcoe County Home Builders’ Association.

There should be a two-month turnaround this spring — demolish the old duplex in one month, rebuild during the second month.

The new facility carries a $2-million cost.