The basement of a downtown church should be transformed soon into a small, temporary homeless shelter for youth after a city committee recently approved a zoning change to permit the charitable outreach initiative.
Amanda Stephen, Centretown News
The basement of First Baptist Church may soon welcome homeless youth.
Ottawa’s planning committee agreed to permit the First Baptist Church, at 140 Laurier Ave. W., to open overnight accommodation for homeless youth in the city, just in time for the coldest temperatures of the year.
Restoring Hope Ministries, a small organization made up of three men, is planning to run the project in church’s lower floor, providing food, beds and activities for six homeless youth from Friday at 9 p.m. to Saturday at 9 a.m.
Jason Pino, one of the directors of the initiative, says the church is in a strategic location, close to where all many young people hang out but, at the same time, far enough away that it gives the youth the opportunity to get away from places where unsavory activities can take place.
“We thought it was the perfect location,” Pino says.
The program aims to be the first of its kind in Ottawa, a temporary shelter that is fully financed and run by volunteers with donated items.
“It’s a great community initiative,” says Pino. “We can’t do it all ourselves, but together we can share what we have.”
Spots at the shelter will be allotted on a first-come, first-served basis, but Pino says those who can’t be accommodated will at least be able to get out of the cold and get help from volunteers who can call around the city to find somewhere else to stay.
Pino and his partners plan to begin by providing accommodation to male youth only, but they hope to include young women as their initiative grows. Initially, they say, it would be too complicated to provide accommodation for both female and male youth in the same, small space.
The thought is that providing youth with somewhere to stay among members of their own age group will provide a sense of community and belonging.
Pino says he has a lot of experience with homeless youth in Ottawa. He and one of his partners, Michael Brum, have been leading community outreach projects together for years, and still hand out sandwiches and emergency items to the homeless, especially trying to help youth.
Over the years, they noticed that a lot of young people living on the streets were being turned away from packed shelters and ended up sleeping outside, or in situations that could be dangerous.
Says Pino: “We know that there are some spaces available that are designated for youth, but it just seemed that the need was greater than the amount of spaces that were available . . . After a while we had just had enough of seeing it so often.”
Pino says that’s when he and Brum decided to pursue Restoring Hope, bringing in a friend, Clive Good, to help make it a reality.
The church’s minister, Scott Kindred-Barnes, says there are still things to be addressed in the building to make sure the planned shelter space is up to code, but he noted that getting everything approved by the city was a major leap forward.
“Hopefully, what will happen is that this will redress the problem of homeless youth in this city — that’s the hope,” he says. “There’s no guarantee of that, but let’s hope.”
Though the contract has yet to be signed, the church has worked with Pino’s group throughout the process and is very supportive of the initiative, says Kindred-Barnes.
“A lot of people just want to do something and help,” says Pino, “and we’re all sort of gathering our resources together and making it happen. It’s awesome to be a part of.”