Cyrus Centre celebrates 10 years of supporting at-risk youth

The Abbotsford facility provides emergency-shelter beds, hot meals, laundry services, showers and more

Les Talvio

Les Talvio

The teen came to Cyrus Centre in Abbotsford to get off the streets for the night and have a warm dry place to sleep.

He was given a box of items, which included some toiletries and a pair of socks.

“Do I get to keep the socks?” he asked executive director Les Talvio, who informed him that he could keep everything in the box.

Later, Talvio found the sleeping teen with his hand tucked under the pillow, clutching the pair of socks.

This moment was a reminder to Talvio that sometimes just the little things can mean the most to a kid who might be facing some big struggles.

The youth drop-in centre and emergency shelter has been providing this kind of support for 10 years now, first opening in just under 1,000 square feet under the Bavaria Restaurant on Walsh Avenue.

At that time, Talvio and others – including representatives of Mennonite Central Committee, Youth Unlimited, Abbotsford Christian Assembly and Abbotsford Community Services – were concerned about the number of kids living on the streets.

Talvio, who was a street outreach worker at the time, said these youths were in need of a safe place to stay for the night.

“We had youth living in parks, under stairs, in cars, in sheds and barns, staying at unsafe places, being sexually exploited,” he said.

They were unable to stay at home – for various reasons ranging from family dysfunction to abuse – but the nearest youth shelters were located in Maple Ridge and Vancouver.

Talvio said these teens needed support beyond just shelter. Many of them talked about wanting to take a shower, do laundry and get a meal.

“They said they wanted to talk to adults but they wanted to talk to adults who were going to listen to them, not judge them.”

A steering committee was formed in 2004 and Cyrus Centre opened the following year, initially providing services such as showers, laundry facilities, meals, one-on-one support and court outreach.

Talvio said the first youth to access the services had been living on the streets, was using drugs and was not connecting with his family.

Cyrus Centre was able to provide services for the boy and his family. He eventually moved back home, stopped his drug use, and went back to school. He is now in his 20s, lives on his own and is still doing well, Talvio said.

Two other boys, who became friends, were particularly challenging and were often asked to leave the centre due to their obnoxious, unruly and angry behaviour.

“They brought their drama here (to the centre). When they were present, the whole atmosphere would change,” Talvio said.

He said staff continued to work with the boys and, over time, they became more open to being helped. They now each live on their own and are back in school.

Talvio acknowledges that not every story results in a successful turn-around. He said about 19 per cent of Abbotsford’s current homeless population is comprised of youth ages 15 to 19.

Some youth have died  and others continue to live on the streets. He said staff have even come across some – mainly from out of town – at the homeless camp on Gladys Avenue.

“But there have been more successes than not … I’ve seen youth who have been extremely angry and violent who are so lost and hurt who have been able to turn their lives around because we wouldn’t give up on them.”

Cyrus Centre is now located on Ware Street, where it has expanded to include four beds for overnight stays and additional services such as employment coaching and the coordination of temporary or permanent housing.

In 2013, the centre opened Cyrus House, where four young men live with house parents, and this year Cyrus Centre opened a location in Chilliwack.

Talvio said Cyrus Centre is now serving as a model for other communities wanting to address their issues with homeless and at-risk youth, but he is grateful for the 10 years of success at a local level.

“It’s been a blessing for me to be part of this and see the impact on youth and families, but it’s also been a blessing to see that Abbotsford is a city that cares,” he said.

For more information, visit cyruscentre.com.