Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 18, 2006
Thanks to Safe House, Rachel moved off the streets and is celebrating Christmas with her son
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Rachel is one of nearly 2,000 youth who have lived at Safe House since Catholic Social Services opened its doors 20 years ago.
She was a teenaged Edmonton prostitute and her own mother - a prostitute herself - was her pimp.
Rachel tried repeatedly to get off the streets. She got pregnant and gave birth to a son. The boy was eventually taken away for his protection, and to give Rachel an opportunity to get help before they were reunited.
During a large Christmas celebration with former and current residents and CSS staff and volunteers, Rachel attended with her son. They laughed and sang together.
For Megan Kompf, there could not have been any gift more glittering.
"The house isn't big enough for all of the people who want to come to the party," said Kompf, child and youth program manager with CSS.
Safe House is a large, turn-of-the-century three-storey house near the U of A.
The home is open to up to eight 13 to 19 year olds who struggle with a life mired mainly in prostitution, street gangs or abusive relationships.
Safe House gets decorated with an artificial tree on each level. There is always a traditional Christmas dinner. The house is fully staffed at Christmas.
The community makes donations at Christmas, including gifts from the Catholic Women's League at St. Joseph's Basilica.
"There is a potency with Christmas Day and if we suddenly have replacement workers and the kids have never laid eyes on them, it's not very authentic," Kompf said. "We make no pretence or illusions that we are their family, but we are their companions for now."
If the youth's natural family tries to get in contact, Safe House would respect the wishes of the house resident. But the family is not always a place of safety.
"It isn't always a pimp they are running from," Kompf said.
The Faithful Companions of Jesus, an order of sisters, live nearby and Kompf described their relationship as "neighbours who borrow sugar from each other.
"Having them near lends a lovely component. They bring over cookies and stay to chat. They made the serenity that exists in the house."
Sister Marilyn Matz says the sisters like to meet the youth on a casual basis. "We are known as the nice ladies (nearby)."
Kompf said getting off the street is like leaving an abusive partner. Many kids do not get it right the first time. Varied influences can lure them back to the street.
For Rachel, it was a determined struggle. She was 17 when she first came to Safe House. She had already tried nearly every service available.
She ran away but called within two days asking to return. That scenario played itself out perhaps 10 times, Kompf said. The stays became progressively longer until she successfully moved into other housing.
She has now fully severed her ties with her former lifestyle and has become a mother to her son. "She is 21 now and a survivor in the truest sense of the word," Kompf said.