Two representatives of Youth Centres Canada arrived in Hay River last week as part of their trip up the Mackenzie valley to promote a program to get youth basic identification.
Things like a health card, Social Insurance Number, or Status Card may be needed to apply for a job or to qualify for help from a variety of services and aren’t always easy to obtain, even when the applicant is familiar with the process required to do so.
“What we’ve found is that it works well if the youth centre can become a hub of information for youth in the community to reach services and resources,” said Michael Dupuis, in charge of communication and membership support with Youth Centres Canada, an organization that works with local youth centres across the country.
The two men were ready to give a presentation at the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre Feb. 1, but no one turned up. Despite this setback, Dupuis was confident the program could work for Hay River youth if the program were applied here.
“The challenges the youth face in the south or the North are the same,” said Dupuis. “In larger communities, they have more resources and the kids at least know about them and have an idea of where to go to find out about them. Here, I don’t know if it’s a lack of access or a lack of knowledge.”
According to Dupuis, the program – called My Action Plan – was developed with former and current homeless youth who reported that one of their biggest challenges was getting to the help they needed in the first place, be it for housing, food, or even mental health support. The program teaches kids skills like how to fill out an application for basic pieces of identification and helps them along the way to completing their civic portfolio.
Sharon Pekok, executive director for the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre, said all it can take is one bad experience for a young person to get turned off a particular program or service.
“One of the things I hear is that they feel unwelcome in some of the offices,” she said. “If the person at the front desk is maybe rude or just busy, they don’t want to feel like they’re intruding and it’s hard to go back.”
This is perhaps compounded in relatively smaller communities like Hay River where so many services are offered out of only a few government and non-profit agencies.
“The best thing is when a community gets together to make a list of resources,” said Dupuis. “And for the youth centre to act as a hub through which the youth can get to them.”
Adam Gariepy, executive director of the Smith Falls and District Centre for Youth in Ontario, said his centre took it one step further and brought many service providers into their own building. He said at first many of the kids got defensive, but then grew more comfortable with the outside workers and eventually even took steps to see them in their own offices.
“Being able to go into a government office or clinic and ask for someone by name can maybe help push those white walls and sterile environment away,” said Gariepy, adding that having service providers come to the centre can also help with the stigma young people may feel walking through the doors of a clinic or a police station.
While the program was designed with homeless and at-risk youth in mind, Pekok said she can see its use in Hay River, where she doesn’t normally think of young people being homeless.
“There’s a big gap in services for the 16 to 19 year olds,” she said. “And it’s not a bad idea for young adults who are often becoming parents quite young themselves.”