SURREY — Sitting in his new home, Zack takes stock of what’s in it.
Large furniture fills the small basement suite.
“I might not keep that one, I’m not sure yet,” he says, gesturing to a sizable square coffee table. “It’s pretty big.”
Zack, who asked that the Now not publish his last name, grew up in SOS Children’s Village in Surrey, which takes in children in the foster system. The organization houses about four dozen children in 12 local homes and helps hundreds more through its outreach programs.
But the charity has just expanded to better help a particularly vulnerable segment of the population – children aging out of foster care once they turn 19.
Zack was the first adult to move into one of three “transition” suites for youth to help them establish a sense of independence.
He was just five years old when he was first removed from the care of his parents.
His mother struggled with a mental illness, his father, with alcohol addiction.
“They couldn’t care for me,” said the 20-year-old. “It wasn’t that they didn’t want to.”
For the next five years he bounced back and forth – from foster care to his father – until he entered SOS at 10 years old.
He said he had his first taste of normalcy at home at one of SOS’s Surrey villages (pictured).
“I was one of those kids that just needed boundaries,” he recalled. “My foster mom really gave that to me. That helped me to grow.”
He’s currently attending a music program at Douglas College and wants to become a high school band teacher.
But moving out on his own was a scary thought, he said, and the new suite will help set him up for a successful future.
“I’ve been working at a bakery for about three years now, but there’s always the matter of bills to pay and this will help quite a bit,” said Zack.
“The rent starts at a fairly low rate and $100 of that each month goes into a savings account that I get once I move out.”
The program also allows the residents to earn their furniture and household items for when they move out on their own.
SOS’s B.C. director Douglas Dunn (pictured during construction of the transition suites) said the results can be tragic when children “age out” of care.
“They show up with knives in their pocket ready to commit suicide,” he said.
Eighty to 90 per cent of the kids aging out at 19 end up on welfare within six months, and 46 per cent are involved in the criminal justice system within two years of their 18th birthday, said Dunn.
SOS’s new Surrey suites – three of which are completed, with two more in the works – will help tackle the epidemic, said Dunn.
He noted there are 60 to 80 homeless youth in Surrey at any given time, and said the new suites could reduce the number of homeless youth by up to eight per cent.
Bob Rasmus, on the SOS’s board of directors, met Zack as he toured the suite during the grand opening last week. Rasmus helped garner donations, for things like countertop and hardware, through his connections in the building industry.
He was touched to meet one of the residents.
“I am so pleased, I really am, to be able to help out,” said Rasmus.
“To see them actually put to use and see the end user being able to benefit from it, that’s the payoff. And the payoff will also be when they succeed in what they’re doing.”
“I really do appreciate it,” Zack said to Rasmus. “Here, you’re less of a number and more of a person.”