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Youth shelter unveiled in Orillia as demand escalates

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The Lighthouse shelter in Orillia unveiled the Jeffrey Burton Youth wing featuring eight beds for those ages 16 to 24, marking the city's first dedicated youth shelter.

"There are a lot of youth who end up being homeless for various reasons. It may be drug-related, it might be abuse related, mental health-related, whatever it is. But then they're stuck, and how do they start over," said Jim Burton, James A. Burton Family Foundation chair.

The Burton family made the initiative possible with a $1 million donation.

The wing honours Jim's son Jeffrey, who passed away 12 years ago from an accidental overdose at the age of 31 after living sober for several years.

"We became very involved as a family with this wonderful project, bringing hope to people that are on the street," Burton said.

The wing has been up and running for the past year and, in 2023, helped 55 young individuals.

Along with beds, it provides access to resources and support, including counselling, health care and job training.

Staff say they are full almost every night and have a waiting list.

"Without any other location or any other shelter, we wanted to open something to keep youth safe. But we always knew that this wasn't the best location, but a great location in the time being," said Lighthouse Shelter executive director Linda Goodall.

Now, the shelter has a new vision. Last week, staff proposed a full-time youth supportive housing complex to city council.

"Somewhere where we can have the youth shelter off property and off property is actually key because we want to make sure they are close to schools, close to families," explained Goodall.

The Lighthouse asked for a 20,000-square-foot facility with 20 to 30 units to separate the younger individuals from the adult clientele.

So far, council is on board.

"It's early stages, but there are several possible locations that could work. This is exciting for us as council because one of the priorities we set when we started out was to look after the most vulnerable," noted Orillia Mayor Don McIsaac.

The mayor said they would wait for a staff report in consultation with the County of Simcoe, which would determine the next steps. In the meantime, Goodall said the shelter will continue conversations with the council.

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