When you look, listen, and see the demeanor of Sandy Staples, the first word that comes to mind is "mom."
After a couple of nights on the street with no safe place to stay, a mom is sometimes all you need.
A 19-year employee of Macdonald Youth Services (MYS) Centre and Emergency Shelter, Staples has seen it all, from homeless youth on the run, youth escaping an abusive relationship, and youth who don’t know how to deal when life takes a dangerous turn for the worst.
"It’s been a long time, and I have seen a lot," said Staples. "But we only do what we can do here, and we just make the kids’ stay here as pleasant as possible. We give them the nurturing, and we give them things that are needed for the short time that they are here."
The emergency shelter is open 24 hours a day and saw 1,994 overnight stays from 714 youth in 2012-13.
"Our staff work hard," said Dr. Erma Chapman, chief executive officer of MYS. "As soon as a youth walks in the door their objective is to get that youth somewhere more permanently safe, often home. But if home is not safe that is not where they are going back to… because as soon as the police come by at three in the morning with a 14-year-old who is otherwise just wandering the streets of Winnipeg, then we need a bed available."
MYS is fundraising to relocate the important shelter next door to a soon-to-be-renovated three-storey mansion, built by railway contractor John Duncan McArthur in 1903 at 159 Mayfair Ave.
The capital campaign to renovate the old McArthur home will cost $2.2 million, 76% of which is raised, but Dale Oughton, manager of development, said that will be for just the bare bones.
"That is basically what you see in the building, the necessities to start furnishing it are going to cost extra," said Oughton. "So we have a lot more work to do. Luckily, Winnipeg is a very generous city."
Though MYS is located in Fort Rouge, Oughton said the services provided by MYS reach every postal code in Manitoba.
"Crisis does not have limits," said Oughton. "We’ve had kids from Tuxedo, kids from Charleswood, which are great areas of the city. People often think ‘Oh well, it doesn’t affect me,’ which is not true. It affects everybody."
Currently the shelter features an intake room, a living room, two dorm-style bedrooms with four beds each, a kitchen, and a spare bedroom affectionately called "the closet."
"(The youth) are happy to go in there because it is safe," said Oughton. "They are getting the shelter, and the food, and the shower they need."
Walking through the current shelter is humbling. In the old building, clients have to share a bedroom with a stranger. The new shelter will feature eight individual rooms.
MYS hopes to have the 159 Mayfair Ave. grand opening on April 22. Staples will have to get used to the new location after working for so long in the current building.
In the meantime she will continue welcoming and helping the youth of Winnipeg and Manitoba.
"One of the things that just blows me away with these kids and their short lives is just how resilient they are," said Staples. "It just amazes me."
To find out more, or to donate, visit www.mys.ca/capital-campaign.php