United Way-Supported Mobile Outreach Program Earning Trust of Homeless Youth
Reaching homeless youth in Nanaimo
There are homeless youth in Nanaimo. Some as young as 13.
They live on the street for a number of reasons: some have escaped a negative, even dangerous home life. Others have been let down by the systems meant to help them.
So it’s not enough to say that you’re there to help – you have to earn their trust before you can lend them a hand. But the time to help them as youth is always running out, because once they are considered adults, many in society feel they are less worthy of help.
“The narrative changes a lot,” says Sarah Cubbage, an outreach worker with the new Ts’its’uw’atul’ mobile youth outreach program. “[The story becomes], ‘Oh, they chose to do this, they did this to themselves.’ So what do we do to help prevent that from happening to them, or help them to have opportunities to make a change if they can?”
You start a United Way-funded program like Ts’its’uw’atul’.
Translated from Hul’q’umi’num, it means coming together in mind and spirit, says Cubbage. The program, inspired by the work of a youth council, uses an RV to bring services, information and connections to youth where they are, rather than asking them to find a way to these services.
Currently running three days a week from three locations a day, outreach workers can provide survival gear, food, water, harm reduction supplies and cultural support, with their services aimed at those under the age of 25.
The RV is also guided by youth, who help to make effective connections with their homeless peers and earn their trust.
“They are a huge benefit to our program. We weren’t just another program rolling out to come save the youth. It was actually, no, this is youth helping youth,” says Cubbage.
Still, earning the trust of homeless youth has been a slow process, Cubbage says. And yet, the program is already in contact with 28 individuals (approximately the amount Nanaimo’s most recent Point-in-Time count suggests), and Cubbage estimates there are likely another 30 they have yet to reach.
“Just looking at the number of youth that are on the streets that we’re accessing already, clearly there’s a gap in the system, and there needs to be more services out there,” she says.
Supported by Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response - Reaching Home grant through United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island, the program aims to be around for the long-term, and become a trusted point of contact for both youth, and the existing supports in the community. To do that past the end of March 2021, the program will need additional financial support.
“We just hold our hands up to the United Way, and really just honour them for having the belief that we can do this,” said Cubbage, adding that the program is supported by the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre, and that it operates on unceded Snuneymuxw First Nation traditional territory.
If you know a youth in need of the support of the Ts’its’uw’atul’ program, it operates Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, starting every morning at the lower Bowen Park parking lot by the volleyball courts, then at the Casino Nanaimo fountain, and ending the day on Wesley Street.