Opinion: A lifeline delayed

The longer it takes for a youth shelter to be built in Chilliwack, the greater the risk to young people in our community.

There is a sad irony to the fact that the delay now facing an outreach program for at-risk youth in Chilliwack comes at the start of a week aimed at preventing the sexual exploitation of youth.

Now in its 16th year, “Stop the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Youth Awareness Week” (March 10-16) is focused on raising awareness about the importance of education, prevention and intervention in this shadowy reality of our society.

Sexual exploitation is one of the greatest dangers at-risk youth face. When kids are on the street, either by choice or by force, they have few commodities to trade for their food and shelter. Faced with returning to an abusive or dysfunctional home, or trading sex for space on a couch, they often opt for the latter.

It’s an insidious and well documented trap that draws the vulnerable into a world that can quickly turn confused kids into something they never intended to be. The sharks come fast, and the tides become increasingly hard to swim against.

Education and prevention is one tack.

But outreach and intervention is sometimes the only option.

That’s what the Cyrus Centre is offering Abbotsford youth, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Providing a few days of stability and security, the centre is a safe harbour for youth who might otherwise be swallowed up by life on the streets.

It’s the kind of place Cyrus had hoped to establish here. Despite the number of vacant buildings in downtown Chilliwack, it searched for months for a suitable location that was both affordable and accessible. Cyrus thought it had found that location. However, an online campaign to retain the current leaseholder of the property has now forced it to reconsider.

Cyrus says it will begin the search again.

And as it does, kids at risk in Chilliwack will wait a little longer, the waters will grow a bit deeper, and the sharks will circle a little closer.

That’s something to think about over your next cup of coffee.

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