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Kelowna Youth and Family Services to be closed

Lake Country Calendar - 8/9/2018

For Sheila Dyer it was like being punched in the gut.

Finding out Kelowna Youth and Family Services was closing its doors left her upset, calling the move a loss to the community, especially to people like her who found the counsellors helpful in dealing with difficult points in their lives.

"I just felt gobsmacked when I heard about this," Dyer recounted. "I am doing okay now but what about all those people who will no longer have access to the help. It is difficult to build that relationship of trust and understanding (with a counselling service) and for many people finding a replacement for Kelowna Youth and Family Services will be hard."

Kelowna Youth and Family Services was initiated as a branch service of the City of Kelowna 40 years ago. Located in the downtown core, the service currently employs three part-time counsellors and an administrative support staff.

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The centre works with families who have children under the age of 19 to provide mental illness therapy.

Mariko Siggers, City of Kelowna neighbourhood and services manager, confirmed the youth and family services branch will be phased out by the end of November.

Siggers said the decision was made after a review of the delivery of city social services along with but not directly related to the city's Journey Home task force recommendations to address the homeless issue.

She said the city believes the budget resources allocated to the youth and family services centre can be more effectively utilized, and those lost services could be absorbed by other counselling providers in the community.

"It is a big shift for us and not a decision made easily…but we looked at what other municipalities have done and looking at other social agency services in Kelowna, we felt there were other ways where we can use our resources in the most effective way possible and have the best impact on the community overall."

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Siggers said current clients will be assisted with transition to other service providers, and the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club has an agreement with the city through 2019 to help off-set the service shortfall as well.

"We expect the transition will be complete by the end of November," she said.

While Dyer understands the concerns about the homeless issue, she always worries about working families dealing with mental illness issues that could lose an oasis of support offered by the youth and family services.

"All of us face dealing with mental health issues at different points in our lives, reach out to get the help we need and then hopefully move forward with our lives," she said. "My concern is how many of those people will get lost in the system with this service being ended.

"The receptionist there has been with that office for more than 20 years. She has seen two, three generations of families come in and get the help they need. That kind of relationship of support is not easy to establish and doesn't get replaced over-night when it is lost.

"It can take years for people to build that trust up again, a place to feel safe when working through difficult personal issues. I'm afraid many people will just give up in frustration and fall through the cracks."

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