It was a freezing cold Saskatchewan winter day, with temperatures in the –30 C range, when the Saskatoon Indian and Métis Friendship Centre opened the doors of the new Wicitizon Daytime Youth Shelter on Tuesday.
The drop-in program provides a safe and warm place during the day for people between 16 and 26 years of age.
“Being a parent or grandparent, and just a human being in general, there’s nothing more honourable in our lives than to help somebody,” said the centre’s executive director, Robert Doucette.
The Wicitizon shelter gets its name from a Saulteaux word meaning “to help oneself,” the friendship centre says.
Doucette said he and his team had previously noticed many young Indigenous youth coming to the centre’s breakfast and supper programs in groups.
“We were concerned about that. We had asked them what was going on in their lives. And lots of them were couchsurfing, you know, they’re aging out of the foster care system. They don’t have a place.”
The drop-in centre is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. COVID-19 protocols are in place and youth have access to a cot, food and activities.
Besides helping up to 12 young people at a time to deal with their homelessness, the program tries to reconnect Saskatoon youth with their Indigenous identities, said Doucette.
It is “a really important factor in the development of any person to know where they come from,” he said.
“I just think that making those investments will only lead to a better society for us later on down the road.”
Doucette is a Sixties Scoop survivor. Growing up not knowing he was Indigenous, he now understands the importance of connecting with one’s own culture, he said.
It “really had a profound impact on my life.”
“When you have that connection and you know where you come from, you gain that inner strength to go through a lot of things.”
Saskatoon Morning8:03A new youth shelter opens in Saskatoon