KITCHENER -- After 30 years, Kitchener's Ray of Hope is losing one of its youth justice programs.

The facility learned its eight-bed open custody and detention facility on Madison Avenue South will no longer receive provincial funding.

It's one of 26 facilities being closed around Ontario.

"It's not like it was a complete surprise, but it's still a shock when you receive that phone call," said CEO Tonya Verburg.

She said she got the call to close on Monday morning. By 1 p.m., she had to inform 22 staff and relocate two youths who were staying there to a different open facility.

"There was a youth there that had been there fairly long term, would have been released in the next couple of weeks," she explained.

"He has to move to another location, and start, not start over in terms of his sentence, but the relationships and the programming. He’d been with us for a bit of time so is comfortable with the staff, so for him I can’t imagine one more change and trauma in his life. That’s really sad to see."

Verburg said the open custody program served male youths aged 12 to 17 who were carrying out sentences for lesser crimes and first offences. The program offered them a range of supports.

"We had onsite counselling, addictions counselling, life skill support, other agencies coming in to help with the reintegration of youth once they were released," she explained.

In a statement, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said that it had inherited a number of underused facilities. The ministry also noted that prevention and education programs had led to an 81 per cent reduction in youth admitted to custody and detention in Ontario since 2004.

This significant underutilization shows the success of efforts to keep families together and return youth to the right track where they are positive members of our communities.

The ministry said that, on average, the utilization rate for open facilities is about 20 per cent, while secure facilities see 49 per cent.

"We haven't been at full capacity for quite some time," Verburg said.

The ministry said that five facilities had no youth for a majority of the 2019-2020 year. These closures could allow the government to reinvest more than $39.9 million per year into other support programs and are in line with recommendations made by the auditor general.

"It's understandable that they had to make some changes, it's just difficult when it's your program that gets the change," Verburg said.

Ray of Hope’s open custody program had a budget of $1.2m, which Verburg said would have a ripple effect. Annually, Ray of Hope works off a budget of about $10 million.

The organization is now working on plans to repurpose its Madison Avenue building and reposition staff members as its other programs and facilities remain open.