City of Saint John to provide money to LGBTQ youth safe space

·4 min read
Adoringly Shire, a drop-in centre for LGBTQ youth in Saint John, opened in May. The volunteers behind it are asking the city for help operating it. (Facebook - image credit)
Adoringly Shire, a drop-in centre for LGBTQ youth in Saint John, opened in May. The volunteers behind it are asking the city for help operating it. (Facebook - image credit)

The City of Saint John is taking steps to help keep the doors open at an LGBTQ safe space for young people in the uptown.

Called Adoringly Shire, it was opened in May by Alice and Marijke Hachemer.

The two women set it up because they felt a safe-space drop-in centre was urgently needed.

"When we saw this space so close to the high schools, we moved and we moved quickly without funding and without partners," Alice said.

Julia Wright/CBC
Julia Wright/CBC

"And we've been believing in, with great hope, that people would step forward."

She said the Shire isn't an organization. Instead, it's a few volunteers who took it upon themselves to start something that was needed.

"We're here to suggest that we are one of Saint John's newest recreation facilities," Alice said. "That we belong as something that the city owns and runs.

"We have no ego attached to the two of us running this place. We care only that it stays open."

The two women said they hosted about 20 high school students a day when school was open, mostly from Saint John High School and St. Malachy's HIgh School.

They also read several letters from students, pediatricians and parents in support of the drop-in centre.

Julia Wright/CBC
Julia Wright/CBC

One anonymous letter from a parent read in part:

"My 15 year old is an intelligent, talented and kind trans boy. Over the past two years, mental health issues caused him to miss most of Grades 9 and 10. He has been hospitalized several times, most recently this past May. Sometimes he didn't leave the house for weeks. In his darkest moments, he no longer wanted to be alive. This ordeal has been deeply painful and stressful for me and the rest of his family."

"Like any parent, I could not bear to lose my child. On June 26, we finally found hope."

"I had read about Adoringly Shire on social media. … When we walked into the Shire we were greeted with smiles, live music, snacks and coffee. After Alice gave us a tour, my son started talking with other teenagers, playing video games and laughing. It was simply wonderful. Now the shire is the focal point of my child's summer. He goes there three times a week. When the shire is closed, he spends time hanging out with friends he met there. The shire has changed his life."

Safe spaces needed

Alice Hachemer said it costs about $2,000 a month to operate the centre, with about $1,600 going toward rent.

She said the Shire can operate until the end of September but will need help beyond then.

"You provide safe spaces to kids," Hachemer said. "You provide them hockey rinks and skate parks and pools.

"But these kids — they're not safe spaces for them."

After the presentation, it was clear the two women had plenty of support around the council table.

Julia Wright/CBC
Julia Wright/CBC

Deputy Mayor John MacKenzie said he was proud of them for setting up the drop-in centre.

"I can tell you that there's a lot of families out there that worry about their kids, their brothers or sisters, their family members, you know, all the time. And they thank you for making a safe place for their family, too."

Coun. Gary Sullivan, a high school principal, pointed to studies that showed how important adult role models were in a young person's life.

"One of the most significant assets the youth at risk were missing was positive adults in their life that weren't family members," he said.

"And for so many of our at-risk youth in the city of Saint John — [and the] country of Canada — they are missing that."

Connell Smith, CBC
Connell Smith, CBC

Several other councillors voiced their support, but even before they had a chance to speak, city manager John Collin jumped in with a proposal.

"I don't think we need to overthink this, nor do I think we need any resolutions of council or anything else," Collin said.

"I can certainly undertake to work with the staff and figure out a way to support the Shire the way they need to be supported — full stop."

Collin said the idea fit nicely with the city's recent decision to hire a community services manager.

"This is right in line with what we want to do with that sort of entity and this sort of organization. So I really do not see an issue with providing support to the Shire moving forward."

Collin said staff would come back to council with a plan for its approval.

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