A youth outreach team is finding ways to connect with young people on Nanaimo’s streets who are experiencing homelessness and in need of some help.
The Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre’s youth advisory council has been taking the initiative to stop by Wesley Street once a week to hand out hygiene products, food, sleeping bags, tents, harm reduction supplies and more, notes a press release from Vancouver Island University.
Ruby Barclay, a VIU alumnus and coordinator of the aboriginal centre’s youth advisory council, said in the release that her group made more than 140 “connections” downtown during the first five weeks of the program. She said there are youths who have experienced homelessness as part of the outreach team.
“The youth feel comfortable talking to us,” she said in the release. “They see lots of people who criminalize and racialize them. They feel like we understand and actually care.”
The Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre’s youth advisory council has been around since 2017 and is made up of a dozen members who are currently in government care. Its mission is to provide peer support, advocate for systemic change and work toward sustainable programming for youths, the press release says.
The mobile outreach team, in partnership with Literacy Central Vancouver Island, offers no-barrier services to people in their teens and 20s, with initial funding from the Nanaimo Community Action Team, the release notes.
Barclay said homelessness in downtown Nanaimo is more visible than ever during COVID-19.
“When we asked the youth why this [initiative] was important, they responded with, ‘Because these people are humans. These people are our neighbours. Our community members. Our relatives. They deserve support too,’” she said.
According to the release, the youth council is hoping the mobile outreach team will receive funding from the City of Nanaimo to continue, and an “ultimate goal” is a 24-hour drop-in centre to support young people experiencing homelessness.
Anyone wishing to donate money or items such as new or gently used backpacks, shoes, blankets, clothing and survival gear are asked to e-mail Barclay at email@example.com or Delaney Gunn, Literacy Central Vancouver Island’s youth literacy coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.