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Letter: Building a better future for youth in Newfoundland and Labrador

Choices for Youth, a non-profit, community-based charity that provides housing and lifestyle development supports to youth ages 16-29, is hosting a forum in Clarenville on Monday, Nov. 6.
Choices for Youth, a non-profit, community-based charity that provides housing and lifestyle development supports to youth ages 16-29, is co-hosting a summit on June 4 and 5 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. - SaltWire Network

One thousand two hundred and thirty-five. That’s how many young people passed through the doors at Choices for Youth last year. They came to get help with employment, to find a safe place to sleep, to get help accessing housing, to eat a hot and healthy meal, to tend to their health, to strengthen their parenting skills, to reconnect with their families, to be listened to, or just to be safe.

1,235 is a staggeringly large number in a community of our size, and it grows every year. This is, in part, due to the simple reality that youth are travelling to St. John’s from all over the province. When a young person arrives at Choices for Youth they may have been referred by a social worker in their hometown, dropped off by their family after a really rough patch, or sent into the city alone on a bus.

Whichever way they get here, these young people from outside the St. John’s metro area make up a big part of the clients we work with — and we know that can be a challenge for those youth. Coming to St. John’s often means disconnecting from support networks and diving headfirst into an unfamiliar community, with all sorts of associated risks and barriers. We know that by the time someone ends up in St. John’s, they’re probably farther along a challenging road than we would like. We know from experience and from examples all over Canada that making a shift towards prevention is what will make the difference — and we know that can’t just happen here in St. John’s.

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The good news is that, bit by bit, that shift is happening. The recommendations from the All-Party Committee on Mental Health and Addictions, Towards Recovery, amount to a transformation of how support services are delivered for youth. At the same time, the Premier’s Task Force on Educational Outcomes released Now is the Time, which clearly identified the large role that supports outside of the classroom play in student success. Soon, we’ll also see a new provincial Housing and Homelessness Plan — which is good news since we know that safe and stable housing is the foundation for so many outcomes in a young person’s life.

At the same time, Choices for Youth is also making an even greater shift towards prevention, and a big part of that will be doing work across the province. However, having our roots in St. John’s and operating solely in the metro area for 27 years, we know we have a lot to learn. We’ve spent the past year reaching out to young people across our province, and those who support them. We’ve visited more than 20 communities and met with hundreds of young people, dozens of community agencies, indigenous, provincial, and municipal governments; and other community leaders.

Youth throughout Newfoundland and Labrador face many of the same challenges: mental health struggles, addictions that are taking hold at younger ages, the severe lack of supportive housing, and a shortage of spaces to gather and feel safe. There are also common opportunities: we heard from young people all over both the island and Labrador about the importance of connections to the land and to community, and about how they want to be involved in building a better future for their peers. At the same time, we also heard about many differences between regions; solutions for Stephenville won’t look exactly like solutions for Sheshatshiu — and that’s OK.

So where to from here? The next step for Choices for Youth is a major summit we are hosting (with our colleagues from A Way Home Canada, a national coalition to end youth homelessness, and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness), on June 4 and 5 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. At this Summit we’ll be bringing together youth, leaders from community organizations, all levels of government, and experts from across Canada to help solidify a vision for the shift required in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

  1. still lots of work to do to bring together all the different players and plans — but right now everyone is rowing in the same direction. If we can get this right, Newfoundland and Labrador will be a Canadian leader. After a year of listening to the people doing incredible work on shoestring budgets all over this province, one thing is for certain: we are ready.

To learn more about Choices for Youth’s provincial expansion plans, head to http://www.choicesforyouth.ca/expansion or email jsmee@choicesforyouth.ca

Joshua Smee,

Provincial Expansion Co-ordinator, Choices for Youth

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