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By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Auberge du cœur La Source-Soleil, a shelter for troubled and homeless youth in Sherbrooke, is witnessing a significant amount of short stays throughout the pandemic, which is hindering employees’ ability to connect with guests.

The shelter holds nine available spots for people between the ages of 18 and 30 years old. According to Source-Soleil Director Amandine Vial, there are several beds available right now, but those who use the facility are staying for less than a week.

“For us to build a connection to the youth, and in order to advance in their steps, they need to trust our social workers, which takes at least two or three months,” said Vial.

The shelter is like a stepping stone for young folk stuck in a difficult home situation, she explained to The Record in a phone interview. They also often carry other burdens, like struggling with drug or alcohol addictions.

Although young people aren’t staying quite as long as she would like, Vial added that the shelter’s staff tries to keep tabs on everyone who walks through the building in an effort to ensure they are staying safe.

“We often know where they are going, some go to the streets, but in general they go to other resources,” Vial said. “We work with them when they leave in order to make sure they don’t end up on the streets.”

While La Source-Soleil is a medium for youth seeking to get over tumultuous life hurdles, it’s not to be mistaken for an emergency shelter. This isn’t like a homeless shelter, said Partage St-François Director General Sebastien Laberge.

People need to set up appointments where a social worker will evaluate their needs, he continued. They are given a room and responsibilities to maintain throughout the house and under no circumstances are people allowed to consume drugs.

“It’s a house with more of a family atmosphere. Everyone eats together, there’s good food, it’s clean and it’s a home,” said Laberge. “It’s for another type of person, someone that has difficulty transitioning to adult life or struggling to find a stable job.”

Laberge is on the board of directors for the youth shelter and he was the interim director last year. He said it’s difficult to quantify how many young people are living in vulnerable situations because they often lose track of them for a number of years.

La Source-Soleil is perfect for people ready to shed their drug habits, but many vulnerable youth fall through the cracks because they are not prepared to ditch their old lifestyles. They usually spend years burning through their own resources before seeking help.

“They’ll join a gang, they’ll find an apartment, party for a few months, go to someone’s house in exchange for sexual favours, deal drugs, commit crimes, or they’ll find someone in their family willing to give them a second, third or fourth chance,” said Laberge.

The young people he sees at Partage St-François are typically at their breaking point. But even so, they use the facility to get their bearings and then head back out. Only those dealing with severe mental health issues choose to stay longer.

He said that with all of the added sanitary rules in place due to the pandemic, many homeless people, old and young, are avoiding emergency shelters. It’s the same across Quebec, he continued, the vulnerable youth just don’t want to go to shelters.

“People living in the streets are generally people who don’t like rules, they’re in opposition of everything, so when we tell them there are more rules, they don’t want anything to do with it,” said Laberge.

He opened more beds this winter than he has in previous years hoping to accommodate more people, especially with a curfew in place. But Laberge noted that there are less people using the shelter; a lot of the beds remain empty every night.

There are weeks where the shelter is only completely full for two nights, meaning there are spots available for five other nights, he said, and it has a lot to do with the new process. He needs to check for symptoms, hand out masks, and explain the rules to everyone.

“Now the process lasts until about 10 or 11 p.m.,” said Laberge. “And this leads to less people coming to shelters because people would rather just sleep outside over following rules.”

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