January/February, 1984

Jackie Goodwin

p. 9.

The dirt on the Senator's demise

VANCOUVER -- The Senator Project, a downtown Vancouver hostel for teenage prostitutes, closed for good on December 8 after a three year controversy that included allegations of mismnagement and of sexual and drug abuse.

the Senator Project, established in the fall of 1980, operated out of an old three storey hotel in Granville Mall. The location was close to an are where teenagers involved in drugs, prostitution and other street activities hung out. The Alternative Shelter Society, which ran the Senator, proved a place to sleep and counsellors and teachers who could empathize with the concerns of the street kids. Employees were chosen for their first-hand experience rather than for their training; they could talk openly about sexual abuse, drub use, lesbianism or gayness, feminism, activism -- in general those parts of their past they usually hid. Because of its hiring policies, the Senator Project came under constant fire from politicians, parents and business people.

The Senator housed only five or six residents, although there were times when thirty kids might be using the facilities. Then inconsistencies inpolicy were reported. Counsellors were accused of being involved in relationships with kids, of using drugs and possession of weapons.

Social workers lost confidence in the operation and some of the project's clients refued to go the Senator because people they had liked and trusted were no longer there. They had been fired, been forced to quit or had quit out of conscience.

The Senator's location was both a strong point and the project's downfall. The hostel was easily accessible to kids who needed it. But kids could easily return to the street, or continue hooking or selling drugs while living at the Senator. And the project provided no motivation for teenagers to change lifestyles. A facility located outside the downtown core might attract kids who wanted to change. But no new project has been provided.

The Senator's policy -- to be supportive of kids sexual choices -- did not extend to gay kids. According to one former worker, although there were gay staff, the heterosexual preference was emphasized. Yet two of the project's outstanding success stories were gay kids who just needed to be told that it's okay to be gay, and to be around men and women who were comfortable being gay. Many of the kids were bisexual or experimenting sexually and they too needed to be told that was all right.

For months, BC politicians have been hinting that the Senator Project was not succeeding as they had planned, but they promised that the programming would not be discontinued until something was available to replace it. Last March, Grace McCarthy, BC's Minister of Human Resources, admitted on a radio hotline show that the Senator Project may have been an expensive mistake. But she felt that it was a needed service, and acknowledged that it was in some ways successful. In August, Ken Derbey, Ministry of Human Resources Regional Manager, said that the project would be disbanded in favour of smaller, decentralized facilities. In response, John Karposs of the Alternative Shelter Society, the group that ran the centre, said that the jobs would not be lost, and that just as many beds would be provided for the kids in different areas of the community.

The Senator operation probably cost a million dollars a year to run. Money alloted to the centre will go to other projects.

John Turvey, a former employee at the Senator, is running a programme out of the Carnegie Centre in Vancouver's downtown east side for teenage kids. Opinion is that he will run an excellent programme, but it is not a hostel. Kids who use the programme will have to be motivated to participate: it is activity-oriented. The Senator's money is slowly going out to other people, and some of them will do some real good.

But now that the Hostel has closed without something to replace it, the kids are back on the streets fulltime.

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Created: December 1, 1996
Last modified: December 1, 1996

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