3 min

Pride House abandoned

Kafer blames community for lack of support

A proposal to build a shelter for Vancouver’s queer street youth has crashed before it ever got off the ground.

Adele Kafer first pitched her Pride House proposal to the community in 1999, when she told Xtra West readers about an idea she and her friends were developing to create BC’s first-ever group home for homeless queer youth.

The idea quickly gained favour. Within a few months, Kafer had officially registered the group as a society (the Pride Care Society), attracted some movers and shakers to its board, and started talks with government agencies about funding. A year later, Xtra West readers voted Kafer and her partner, Dawn Greer, Volunteers of the Year for their efforts.

When last heard from, Kafer had received a $65,000 grant from the federal government to assess the needs of local queer street youth and ask them what services they’d like to see in a Pride House. She was also diligently trying to raise funds for the project.

That was two years ago.

Last week, Xtra West tried to contact Kafer for an update, only to find that the phone number she’d given the community was no longer in service. Her email address produced similar results and the website she’d provided refused to come up on screen. A Canada 411 search for Kafer also came up blank.

Xtra West finally managed to track Kafer down at work. She promptly informed the paper that she didn’t want to be found.

Then she blamed the community for her project’s failure.

“The community’s not ready for it,” she says in a phone interview that at times turns hostile. “The community is not ready or able to take it on at this time.”

She is reluctant to discuss the matter further. When asked to explain, she offers few details but says the government noticed the community’s lack of support (it was “appallingly obvious”) and therefore refused to fund the project.

When asked to recall exactly what the government told her, she ducks the question-twice.

She won’t disclose exactly how much money, if any, she managed to raise from the community, either. (An Xtra West request to the BC societies registry for the Pride Care Society’s financial records was still pending as the paper went to press.)

She says she has nothing to explain to the community. The only people she owes any explanation to, she says, are the queer street youth who may have gotten their hopes up for a house of their own after the research team interviewed them about their needs.

“I put a lot into [this project],” Kafer says, “and then I had to realize there just wasn’t the community support there, and that was really sad. So I had to let it go.”

But other former Pride House board members say it isn’t the community’s fault the project fell apart.

Kelly Perrin blames the board itself and Kafer in particular.

He describes a board wracked by poor management, power struggles and in-fighting. “It was just a disaster,” he says.

If anyone needs to account for what went wrong, it’s Kafer, Perrin continues. In his last few months on the board, Perrin says Kafer quit and returned three times.

“The community tried to come through, but [Kafer] kept stepping in and exercising her control over it,” Perrin says. “I think she needs to look at herself. We were prepared to get down to business but we weren’t able to.”

Perrin, who has also sat on the boards of both the Vancouver Pride Society and the Gay and Lesbian Business Association, resigned in frustration from the Pride House board over concerns about how the research grant would be spent.

So did Alan Herbert. The former city councillor and planner says he, too, had serious misgivings about the way the board was allocating its $65,000 grant. The process was “shoddy, it lacked competition and the terms of reference were being dictated to the board,” he alleges.

When asked if he thinks the community is to blame for Pride House’s failure, Herbert says no. The community wasn’t kept informed enough to support the project, he maintains. “I left and I never heard another word. Not a peep. It hasn’t exactly been a household topic.”

Xtra West called Kafer back to get her take on her former co-directors’ recollections, but she hung up before she even heard the question.

About the only thing all three former directors agree on is the urgent need for some sort of shelter and services for homeless queer youth.

“It’s an emergency,” Kafer emphatically states. “Because there’s homeless queer street youth out there with nowhere to go.”

Perrin agrees that something must be done, though he suggests the answer may be to incorporate queer-specific services into existing shelters and facilities.

Herbert says what he’d most like to see is a “no-questions-asked” overnight shelter for the youth. A disproportionately high number of the street youth sleeping in doorways in the West End have issues with their sexuality, he points out.

“Those are our kids.”