In March of 2018, Atira Women’s Resource Society began demolishing the abandoned Motel Hollywood in Surrey, B.C.
It’s being transformed it into a safe haven for homeless women trying to get off the streets.
“So the motel was absolutely in abysmal shape when we bought it so we are doing extensive renovations inside, new flooring fixing the doors making it more secure replacing the kitchenettes new furniture inside,” says Atira CEO Janice Abbott.
It’s called “Little’s Place” now… after Santana Huntinghawk Scott, whose street name was Little.
Scott was 19 when she aged out of foster care.
She then became homeless and died of an opioid overdose, alone in a tent near a busy highway in Surrey.
Santana’s street name was Little because she was so small.
Abbott was so moved by her story that she named the new facility after her.
“You think about the potential that’s lost,” she says. “Every young woman has the potential to find a cure for cancer or raise a child who finds a cure for cancer or helps another person and you just don’t know what potential she had and it’s so preventable.
“What happened to Santana is so preventable and that’s what makes it tragic.”
Barbara Desjarlais was one of the first to move in to Little’s Place.
Originally from High Prairie, Alta., she has been on the lower mainland of B.C. since 1994.
She says she has been homeless for the last year in Surrey, but now has a place to call home.
“In the drug world I believed that I was not safe just sleeping anywhere so I stayed up like 3-4 days,” says Desjarlais. “I was relieved, I just about started crying when I saw this room that it was mine for two years you know.
It’s finally a bed to sleep in, my own bed and nobody could tell me ‘oh you have to go to sleep at this time or you have to get up this time’ like shelters.”
Little’s Place has 22 units with some featuring kitchenettes – a few are wheelchair accessible. They offer meals two times a day, seven days a week and also offer programs such as art therapy and support groups for the women.
They allow pets because they understand that pets are therapeutic.
Tamara Ashley lives here with her dog Gizmo.
Ashley says she has worked in the sex trade since the age of 13.
She says she could have suffered the same fate as Santana.
“I very easily could have ended up like her very easily.
Savannah Huntinghawk Scott is Santana’s older sister.
She honours her late sister with a tattoo on her arm.
She says Santana would be proud that her legacy will live on through Little’s Place – but says the child welfare system failed her sister.
“When Santana wanted to get better like healthy, they weren’t there to provide her with the things she needed and she felt alone,” she says. “She just needed that person to push, to show that they cared and loved for her.”
Numerous reports by the Representative for Youth and Children says that kids who age out of the system when they turn 19 are often left with no support.
Savannah says it was when her sister was put into group homes that her addiction to drugs started because of the trauma she endured.
“I look at things a lot differently that’s for sure,” she says. “I definitely think there is a lot more people can be doing, not just individually, but as a community I think to show the support and we all need to be there for each other.”
A mural is proudly featured in Little’s Place – it stands as a reminder of how a young life cut short is now providing hope for others.