Kentville project challenges community to end youth homelessness

Ashley Thompson athompson@hantsjournal.ca
Published on November 18, 2016

Kolby Pineo, Chance Johnstone and Jeff Melvin add their voices to conversations about youth homelessness during The Portal Youth’s Centre’s Shelter Project in Kentville Nov. 18.

©Ashley Thompson

KENTVILLE - Jeff Melvin didn’t have to spend a night in The Portal’s makeshift outdoor shelter to gain a better understanding of youth homelessness. He’s lived it.

“I was 18 years old when I was living on the streets with my older brother and my dog,” said Melvin, who spoke with Kings County News at the site of the The Portal Youth Centre’s Shelter Project fundraiser and awareness campaign in Kentville Nov. 18.

“It was rough.”

Melvin vividly recalls the worry and uncertainty he felt while living on the streets. He and his brother were often left wondering where they’d sleep at night and how they’d find food.

“It made us do some pretty stupid things. If we didn’t have our resources, money or anything like that, we would go and take it from cars.”

Now in his early 20s, Melvin is proud to say his life has changed for the better since he got involved with The Portal.

“It gave us a place to stay, food in our bellies,” he said.

“The Portal is all about support.”

The Portal recently teamed up with activism students from Acadia University to host a Shelter Project fundraiser and awareness campaign. The goal is to shine a light on the fact that youth homelessness happens here and collect donations for an emergency fund that will assist Annapolis Valley youth facing homelessness.

The Shelter Project challenged members of the community to take a shift in a makeshift outdoor shelter set up in the parking lot of the Jason’s Your Independent Grocer store in Kentville from Nov. 17-19.

“We can’t turn our back on youth homelessness,” said Russ Sanche, youth outreach co-ordinator with The Portal Youth Centre.

“We’ve got to understand that we all can do something together to solve the problem, to work on it.”

There are several factors the lead to youth living on the streets or couch surfing, and a lack of support will only make the situation worse, Sanche said.

“What strikes me as reality is that you have to leave a pretty bad situation to prefer to be outside,” he said, noting that many of the youth he works with through The Portal have overcome “ridiculous odds” in order to survive.

Sanche has dealt with teens that once sought refuge inside the doorways of local businesses after hours, in dugouts, at Miner’s Marsh, in abandoned buildings and by clothing donations boxes during nights on the streets.

He believes a community-based approach can put a stop to youth homelessness, and The Shelter Project is one way to get the ball rolling.

“We’ve got to keep the conversation going,” said Sanche.

Donations for The Shelter Project and emergency fund for youth facing homelessness can be submitted through the online fundraising website gofundme, or dropped off at The Portal’s headquarters at 374 Main Street in Kentville.

To contribute to the emergency fund for Annapolis Valley youth facing homelessness, go to: https://www.gofundme.com/the-shelter-project-2w8je9e8

This makeshift shelter was set up along Main Street in Kentville as part of The Portal Youth’s Centre’s Shelter Project, which is slated to continue into Nov. 19..

©Ashley Thompson