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Saving SideDoor

$40,000, plenty of volunteers needed to restart weekend sessions

Jennifer McPhee
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 22/03) - Getting Friday and Saturday night drop-in programs restarted at SideDoor will take a new attitude from teens, about $40,000 and a whole lot of volunteers.

NNSL Photo

Acting executive director Ryan Peters says closing the weekend drop-in program was a last resort. - Jennifer McPhee/NNSL photo

NNSL Photo

SideDoor is open every day except Sunday.

  • Junior SideDoor (for elementary school-aged children), runs weekdays 3:30-5 p.m.
  • Group of 10 (youth leadership sessions), 5-7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Saturday.
  • Christian Youth Group, 7:30-10 p.m. Friday.
  • Host Group (open to other youth-related groups), 6-10 p.m. Tuesday.
  • Fundraising Night (dances, game show night, pool tournaments where teens pay admission), 6-11 p.m. Saturday.
  • Unstructured (drop-in) Nights, 6-11 p.m. Monday and Thursday.

  • Two months ago, SideDoor cut its youth drop-in program on Friday and Saturday nights because of teen violence, drinking and drugs.

    Teens at the youth centre Monday night knew all about the problems, and were able to describe a vicious fight they witnessed outside.

    Despite this, they say they feel safe at the youth centre and want the weekend drop-in program to resume because it's getting colder outside and there's nowhere else to go.

    Karlenn Mantla suggested staff try opening every second weekend.

    Community leaders, too, want to see the program resume.

    "Hopefully, out of all of this, the community will get behind the SideDoor and provide the support so it can re-open," said Mayor Gord Van Tighem.

    Diavik Diamond Mines Inc., SideDoor staff and the mayor met to discuss the situation last week. Diavik has provided financial support in the past, and although no cheques were issued, the company and centre staff agreed to meet again in the future.

    Karen Hoeft, of the Yellowknife Homeless Coalition, said she believes SideDoor is suffering from growing pains. It's a young organization, with no core funding, dependent on volunteers, she said. And it's made a huge leap -- going from using someone else's building to maintaining its own.

    Julie McNeice, SideDoor board chair, said they are anxious to re-open on the weekends, but said youth must play an important role.

    "We want to change the reputation first," she said.

    "We're going to do this by having as many people go through there as possible via the activities that are going on. Hopefully the people that go through will have a respect and appreciation for what the building can offer."

    No core funding

    SideDoor's $250,000 annual budget is generated through grants and fundraising.

    Hoeft pointed out the centre can't force people to volunteer and it doesn't have enough funding to pay more staff.

    Even with funding, finding staff isn't easy. Getting them to work weekends at wages the non-profit centre pays is even tougher, she said.

    "We have to get alongside not just with money, but with time, ideas and long-term solutions."

    Enough money means between $30,000 and $40,000 to hire two additional part-time staff, said staffers Ryan Peters and Jay Bulckaert.

    Ideally, they'd like to hire one person to assist Bulckaert with the teen program during the week and one to help on weekends. Throw in several volunteers at night and weekend drop-in could resume safely.

    "We don't want the community to get the idea we are going to sink," said Peters. "But we really want this to be a community organization run by the community and supported by the community."

    "We don't want to be in the position of sticking our hand out saying come fill it with cash. We'd rather say, just come on board by volunteering and being there for the kids."

    Peters said SideDoor is contributing to its own operating costs by renting out the board room, parking lot and hosting birthday parties.

    Until SideDoor closed its weekend drop-in, only one staff member worked on Friday and Saturday nights. On these nights, up to 60 kids might come out.

    Five assaults took place in and around the Side Door the month before it closed. However, Bulckaert said he believes hiring security guards or a heightened police presence isn't the answer.

    "Having more (staff and volunteers) would accomplish the same task but in a more friendly, open way that's not threatening to the kids."

    In the past, staff rarely called police. Usually, the violence takes place just outside the centre and staff don't find out until after. By then, the culprit is long-gone and the victim isn't talking.

    "There's a code of secrecy here," said Bulckaert. "Some kid can come in who just got beat up on property, but you're never going to find out who did it."

    Bulckaert has called the RCMP, its station located across the street, two or three times since August. Once no one came, he said. In another case, it took half an hour.

    "I don't want to paint the picture that the police aren't doing they're job because that's not true. They probably haven't been aware of the majority of incidents."

    Sgt. Al McCambridge explained incoming calls are prioritized.

    Friday and Saturday nights are the RCMP's peak periods and police respond to life and death situations first. However, he said, the RCMP is trying to increase its presence at SideDoor, and has an officer designated as liaison.

    Ideally, he'd like officers to visit the centre not just when there's a problem, but at other times, possibly giving presentations on how to deal with violent situations. That way, teens will get used to the presence and become more at ease around police.

    McCambridge agreed victims of crime are often reluctant to talk.

    "Unfortunately peer pressure, bullying and fear of retribution is there. We can only deal with the information we get and do whatever we can to protect the individuals who complain."