Chilliwack centre for homeless youth will fill a definite need

A need has been identified for a facility in Chilliwack to help homeless and at-risk youth. - Submitted
A need has been identified for a facility in Chilliwack to help homeless and at-risk youth.
— image credit: Submitted

Les Talvio has seen things as executive director of the Cyrus Centre in Abbotsford that would bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened cynic.

“Here, you take him; I don’t want him,” one father once told Talvio as the man dropped his son off at the centre.

“We have literally seen kids discarded.”

Now Talvio is helping to bring the Cyrus Centre to Chilliwack, although a location and a timeline are now uncertain.

Cyrus Centre is a facility for those aged 12 to 18 where the young people can get access to food, shelter, clothing, showers and laundry facilities, and access to telephones, computers, employment coaching and emergency dental care.

The centre also has access to addictions counselling, family mediation and life-skills programs.

In Chilliwack, the plan is to open a centre with four beds. The facility will operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Cyrus Centre is a place for kids who are homeless, who are sexually exploited, for kids who have been left behind after families break up, and it’s for kids looking to exit their circumstances.

“It’s not about being a flophouse,” Talvio says. “We are not a rec centre.”

So who are these homeless kids in Chilliwack? Talvio said the youth are already here in the downtown core with nothing to do and nowhere to go. He anticipates seeing 20 to 30 youth a day once open, with the four shelter beds usually full.

Talvio, himself a Chilliwack resident, says the Cyrus Centre in Abbotsford hosts the only youth shelter beds between Metro Vancouver and the Okanagan.

“There is a big void there.”

Over a 24-hour period this week, volunteers with a number of social service agencies in Chilliwack and Abbotsford took part in a homeless count. In 2008, the Fraser Valley homeless count found 100 people in Chilliwack living without shelter. In 2011, that number was up to 111.

Those numbers almost certainly underestimate the problem of homelessness, and what will likely be found, again, is an over-representation of women and youth on the streets.

Cyrus Centre’s arrival in Chilliwack is at the invitation of government and others, according to Talvio. Last year the Ministry of Children and Family Development hosted a meeting in May with officials from the school district, city hall and other non-profit organizations.

Talvio said following that meeting the sense was: why replicate what the Cyrus Centre is doing and why not just bring the model here?

Steven Esau, program supervisor at Chilliwack Addictions & Prevention Services, said he fully supports Cyrus Centre’s arrival in town.

“An emergency shelter/drop-in for youth in Chilliwack has been long sought after and in high need for the wonderful and important population of youth in our area,” he said. “We truly look forward to being able to have our youth counsellors meet and hang out with youth at a supportive and healthy atmosphere.”

Talvio’s next task is to find a location. Community backlash to the building first identified led them to reconsider.

City Life Church (formerly Glad Tidings) stepped forward financially to help get the Cyrus Centre established in Chilliwack. A facility search team was developed to create a criteria list for the ideal property. What they came up with was 45846 Wellington Ave., on the western edge of downtown, in the building where Decades Coffee Club is currently located.

Talvio said the property was perfect for a number of reasons. Because it will be a youth shelter, needs to be far away from adult shelters, such as the one operated by Ruth and Naomi’s. He said they also don’t want to be in the heart of downtown, nor do they want to be in a residential area.

As for the building itself, with orders for Decades to be out on June 3, Talvio said the building needed so few renovations they could have been opened by July 1.

That all changed Friday when, in a press release issued by Talvio and Todd Lueck from City Life Church, they announced they would withdraw their temporary-use permit application for the Decades building as a result of community response.


Not a church

Backlash was instant on social media to news that the popular Decades, a commercial establishment in a downtown in need of revitalization, might be evicted to make way for a church or a social service agency.

Some of the response hinged on the loss of a commercial business. But some of it hinged on the purchase of the building by a church, a growing phenomenon downtown starting when Promontory Community Church moved to Main Street in 2011. That was followed by the Victory Church buying the old arts centre on College Street, and Vineyard Community Church moving into a commercial storefront at 45892 Wellington Ave. in 2013.

Talvio, however, is quick to point out that Cyrus Centre is not a church.

How about the cross in the centre’s logo and Talvio’s John 3:16 tattoo on his forearm?

“I also have a sea turtle tattoo,” he points out. “I’m passionate about sea turtles.”

Sure, Cyrus receives funding and donations from churches, as well as service clubs, businesses and individuals, but Talvio says the kids are not preached to nor are they forced to attend services.

“We feed them because they are hungry,” he said. “Some places  you have to go to chapel first. We don’t do that. Both communities have tons of churches. We want to do what we do well. Let them do what they do well.”

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