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Access 808 offers refuge to youth needing help


SYDNEY - A former bed and breakfast is working as another type of refuge these days, helping vulnerable youth get the help they need.

Access 808 is a centre located at 808 George Street that deals with the needs and problems of youth ages 16–24. It offers supportive counselling, help, advice, and gives a safe location for those needing a hot shower, a snack, clothing or even getting the laundry done.

For Rose (name changed to protect her identity), Access 808 is helping her get through a tough time in her life.

"I use it because I need it and they're around," she said, while using one of the centre's computers. "The easy access and you meet a lot of cool people. Basically I became homeless, and a friend took me in and we had nothing and I learned about Access 808 and thought I'd try it out.

"When we run low on food and I come here and get a couple of things and they're supportive and kind. Get clothes, you get food. Pop in just because you can."

These are just a few of the services that Access 808 provides.

"We've been open since January 14 and have been taking clients since February," said co-ordinator Peggy Vassallo while giving a recent tour of the facility.

There's a huge, brightly-lit Christmas tree, gleaming golden hardwood floors, a fully stocked kitchen and cozy furnishings deliver a homey atmosphere that many would find comforting. And there have been quite a few requiring that warmth through Access 808's help.

"We're getting close to a hundred clients and we have seen a lot," said Vassallo, adding that so far, they have only used word-of-mouth and very little publicity. "It gives us the perspective to address the needs that we see."

Vassallo expects the numbers to double when they go into the high schools to talk about what the centre offers.

"Since we opened our doors, 27 per cent of our youth we're identifying as homeless and 33 per cent are coach surfing which means they are out of their home but they're living with a friend or family member," said Vassallo. "And then the rest of the youth who come through our door are citing that they are either in an unstable situation which means they can't afford to pay the rent and they're moving from place to place or it's unsafe and that's the one that kind of bothers me the most."

Vassallo said most people don't even realize youth homelessness is a big problem in this area since most of it seems to be hidden.

"A lot of the youth are living in poverty and in some cases, it's grinding poverty," said Vassallo. "It's very hard, unless you get the help that you need, it's very hard to escape it and get ahead."

"The size and scope of this problem is bigger than the public realizes," said Eleanor Anderson, who volunteers with the centre as a fund-development manager.  "There are so many causes out there and we don't want to be another cause.

"It's a long-term problem."

Anderson said while the centre does not provide a place to stay, it does help youth navigate the  system and find their own solutions to their individual problems.

"It's a place where youth can go and feel quite safe basically," said Anderson.  

Vassallo said staff tries to figure out what is the best avenue to help each person and then works towards making their clients' goals happen.

"We work with youth through employment strategies, through keeping youth in school, work to liase with landlords to make sure landlords will rent to youth and if there are any issues, help to intervene - we have a couple of youth now, we have an agreement with the landlord to keep them in their apartment - we're sort of like a parental stand-in because they don't have family."

For Blaine Poirier, the centre has been a big help and he recommends it to anyone who may find themself in a difficult situation.

"Basically why I started to come here was because I came to Sydney with a bag and the clothes on my back and I needed a place," he said.  "I needed a place to call my own. I needed clothing, I needed a little bit of food here and there, I needed furniture for my apartment - they helped me with all of that.

"They helped me quite a bit."

Access 808 depends on the community to help supports its ongoing activities. A direct mail campaign is launching soon in the Sydney area. More information can be found at www.access808.ca

Access 808 is a centre located at 808 George Street that deals with the needs and problems of youth ages 16–24. It offers supportive counselling, help, advice, and gives a safe location for those needing a hot shower, a snack, clothing or even getting the laundry done.

For Rose (name changed to protect her identity), Access 808 is helping her get through a tough time in her life.

"I use it because I need it and they're around," she said, while using one of the centre's computers. "The easy access and you meet a lot of cool people. Basically I became homeless, and a friend took me in and we had nothing and I learned about Access 808 and thought I'd try it out.

"When we run low on food and I come here and get a couple of things and they're supportive and kind. Get clothes, you get food. Pop in just because you can."

These are just a few of the services that Access 808 provides.

"We've been open since January 14 and have been taking clients since February," said co-ordinator Peggy Vassallo while giving a recent tour of the facility.

There's a huge, brightly-lit Christmas tree, gleaming golden hardwood floors, a fully stocked kitchen and cozy furnishings deliver a homey atmosphere that many would find comforting. And there have been quite a few requiring that warmth through Access 808's help.

"We're getting close to a hundred clients and we have seen a lot," said Vassallo, adding that so far, they have only used word-of-mouth and very little publicity. "It gives us the perspective to address the needs that we see."

Vassallo expects the numbers to double when they go into the high schools to talk about what the centre offers.

"Since we opened our doors, 27 per cent of our youth we're identifying as homeless and 33 per cent are coach surfing which means they are out of their home but they're living with a friend or family member," said Vassallo. "And then the rest of the youth who come through our door are citing that they are either in an unstable situation which means they can't afford to pay the rent and they're moving from place to place or it's unsafe and that's the one that kind of bothers me the most."

Vassallo said most people don't even realize youth homelessness is a big problem in this area since most of it seems to be hidden.

"A lot of the youth are living in poverty and in some cases, it's grinding poverty," said Vassallo. "It's very hard, unless you get the help that you need, it's very hard to escape it and get ahead."

"The size and scope of this problem is bigger than the public realizes," said Eleanor Anderson, who volunteers with the centre as a fund-development manager.  "There are so many causes out there and we don't want to be another cause.

"It's a long-term problem."

Anderson said while the centre does not provide a place to stay, it does help youth navigate the  system and find their own solutions to their individual problems.

"It's a place where youth can go and feel quite safe basically," said Anderson.  

Vassallo said staff tries to figure out what is the best avenue to help each person and then works towards making their clients' goals happen.

"We work with youth through employment strategies, through keeping youth in school, work to liase with landlords to make sure landlords will rent to youth and if there are any issues, help to intervene - we have a couple of youth now, we have an agreement with the landlord to keep them in their apartment - we're sort of like a parental stand-in because they don't have family."

For Blaine Poirier, the centre has been a big help and he recommends it to anyone who may find themself in a difficult situation.

"Basically why I started to come here was because I came to Sydney with a bag and the clothes on my back and I needed a place," he said.  "I needed a place to call my own. I needed clothing, I needed a little bit of food here and there, I needed furniture for my apartment - they helped me with all of that.

"They helped me quite a bit."

Access 808 depends on the community to help supports its ongoing activities. A direct mail campaign is launching soon in the Sydney area. More information can be found at www.access808.ca

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