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Letter: Help us help youth in need

It’s 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning and the doorbell rings. No, you aren’t at home — you’re a staff person at the Outreach and Youth Engagement Centre at Choices for Youth, and your day has just started. Staff members haven’t taken off their coats yet, but when the doorbell rings it means that a youth is in need so your jacket will stay on for now.

Standing outside is an 18-year-old who was kicked out of his family home and forced to spend the weekend sleeping outside. You invite him in to get a warm cup of coffee, to shower and to receive clean clothes from a box of gently used donations. You get to know his story, then help him call government agencies to inquire about financial assistance and to find shelter for the night since the Choices Shelter is already full. Finally, he is placed in another emergency shelter and you give him a bus pass to get there. The young person promises to come back tomorrow to look for longer-term housing.

This is just a small glimpse of what a few hours can look like at the Outreach and Youth Engagement Centre at Choices for Youth — it’s busy, a little chaotic at times, and often a rollercoaster of emotions.

While you were helping this 18-year-old, your colleagues were also supporting other young people:

• A 25-year-old who is a regular face at Choices for Youth comes in. She was assaulted the night before and needs someone to talk to. A staff member offers a cup of tea and sits with her while she cries and tells them what happened. They encourage her to see the on-site nurse, tell her about a drop-in counselling service, and provide information to pursue legal action if she chooses. Together, they make a safety plan so she feels a little bit safer for the night ahead, and she agrees to check in with staff tomorrow.

• A 20-year-old youth stops by to receive training from Outreach staff in how to use a Naloxone take-home kit, which can be used to reverse an opioid overdose. This young person’s partner has been using opioids as a way to cope with her childhood trauma. She is very worried about her partner and wants to be able to save their life if she were to accidently overdose.

• A 19-year-old is driven by a staff person to get a photo ID so they can set up a bank account for the first time. This young person recently completed a Choices for Youth pre-employment program and has secured their first job. This job is extra important since this young person was recently told that they will no longer be able to live with their grandmother, who raised them. A stable income will be critical as this young person begins to live independently.

All the while, our chef has been cooking a hearty meal in preparation for the 60 to 70 young people who will come for the lunchtime drop-in program, and staff have also been planning the art, music, recreation and other holistic groups that are offered at the Outreach Centre. It is now 12:30 p.m., and the day will only get busier.

This is just a small glimpse of what a few hours can look like at the Outreach and Youth Engagement Centre at Choices for Youth — it’s busy, a little chaotic at times, and often a rollercoaster of emotions. Most importantly, however, it is a safe and hopeful place where youth can be themselves and find support and a sense of belonging. Our community is vital in making this work happen, and can go a long way to help staff provide coffee, bus passes and opportunities to help the young people who need it most. To learn more about how we are Making Spirits Bright for at-risk and homeless youth in our community visit www.makingspiritsbrightnl.com.

 

Erica Norman
Outreach and youth engagement co-ordinator
Choices for Youth
St. John’s

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