Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mansion made to serve youths

Emergency shelter, resource centre to open

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Macdonald Youth Services' mansion on Mayfair Avenue.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Macdonald Youth Services' mansion on Mayfair Avenue. Photo Store

A heritage mansion that once belonged to a hotel and railway magnate will soon provide a safe haven to Winnipeg youth with no place else to stay.

"It's amazing," said Paul Johnston, the former director of client services who attended Tuesday's ribbon cutting at Macdonald Youth Services' new resource centre and emergency shelter for 12- to 17-year-olds.

"This was in the planning stage when I left," said Johnston. The 7,000-square-foot mansion was built by J.D. McArthur in 1903. It was purchased by Macdonald Youth Services (MYS) in 1954 and used for youth programs. It took several years and $2.4 million to renovate the building, with $1.3 million in private donations and the rest from government grants.

The stately home at 159 Mayfair Ave. backs onto the Assiniboine River and is close to downtown and Osborne Village. "The beauty of this shelter is kids have their own room," said Sandy Staples, senior youth care worker.

The eight-bedroom shelter replaces one in another home on Mayfair Avenue and will offer youths some privacy in a calm place where they can get a good night's sleep and help figuring out what to do next, Staples said.

"We're here for kids in dire need of shelter," she said. "Homeless kids, abused kids. It's a very warm environment."

Youths can come in from the cold and stay up to three nights. The bedroom doors don't lock and the blinds are accordion-style without any strings attached.

"It's all about safety," said MYS spokeswoman Shari Loewen.

The three-storey building has an elevator and is fully accessible. The first floor houses intake meeting rooms and the kitchen. A staff and boardroom area are on the third floor.

All eight bedrooms are on the second floor, with bright, aboriginal-themed murals by artist Wanda Luna painted on the walls.

For years, Johnston worked with youth in crisis and heard many times "I have no place to stay tonight," he said. There was a need for a place for a teen to sleep safer than a stairwell, on the riverbank or with a predatory adult. In the 1990s, the non-profit agency opened a youth emergency shelter inside another home on Mayfair with its living and dining rooms converted into a dormitory. "We made do," said Johnston.

Soon, that shelter will be in a beautiful, new place. That sends a message to the kids it's there to shelter, said Johnston. "They will have a sense of how important they are and how valued they are," he said.

The MYS resource centre and emergency shelter is expected to open by mid-June, said Erma Chapman, chief executive officer for Macdonald Youth Services.

It will provide support services to an estimated 1,600 young people every year, about 700 of whom will require overnight shelter.

The shelter is devoid of a games room or play space for a reason, Chapman said.

"This is not a drop-in centre, this is not a group home. It's a shelter for young people in crisis."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 23, 2014 B1

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