The Outreach and Youth Engagement Centre is the front door at Choices for Youth. It is a place where young people can have a hot meal, feel safe, and build trusting relationships. It is also the place where youth can access many of our mental and physical health supports.
The staff at Outreach work to address the immediate needs of young people, while building foundational relationships that allow staff and youth to work together to identify and pursue goals. Through these relationships, young people are able to access appropriate supports, avoid navigating the complex social service systems, and form longer-term support relationships that can help meet their evolving needs.
Through the delivery of individualized and intensive supports, the team is able to help youth move beyond a crisis-driven lifestyle and begin transitioning towards stability, safety, and a more positive life trajectory.
The Outreach and Youth Engagement Centre is our first point of contact with the most vulnerable young people in our community. This initial connection with young people seeking support is one of the most crucial moments in building our relationship with an individual. Every day, we meet individuals seeking anything from personal care items to access to a phone, medical care, or legal assistance, and we operate to serve whoever is in front of us at any given moment.
Ensuring a young person has access to basic needs is the starting point to pulling a young person out of crises and helping them move forward. Our Outreach Centre is able to provide youth with personal care items, warm meals, access to a telephone or computer, access to a shower, and the chance to get out of the elements and into a warm, safe space. Once basic needs have been met, we can work towards identifying challenges in a young person's life and helping them navigate the systems and boundaries to help them move forward.
Our Outreach Centre offers a Drop-In Program five days a week where a meal is served, staff are onsite, and many partner organizations are available to offer information and resources. Through a safe space, a shared meal, or a meaningful conversation, staff can rapidly build trust and offer individualized supports to the 60-80 youth who attend Drop-In every day. These relationships are critical to helping youth take steps toward a better life. Staff support youth with the development of Individual Support Plans, work with them as they access other supports within CFY, or connect them to services throughout the broader community. Ultimately, by accessing the Drop-In program at Outreach, Youth are able to receive:
Access to primary health care and counselling services
Assistance accessing income support
Support securing stable housing
Support securing employment
Connection to schooling or educational programs such as ABE and GED
Safety plans for unstable or crisis situations
Help securing ID's, SIN cards, and opening bank accounts
Support managing their mental health challenges
Access to community methadone program
Access to addictions counselling services
Access to self-help support (AA/NA)
Support reconnecting with family (if both suitable and safe)
Access to phone and internet services
Access to a community and expanded network of support
Access to suite of programs at CFY
Other service providers and organizations often send representatives to attend Drop-In as a way to better connect youth to the services they need. Our staff then act as facilitators between youth and support systems, while helping youth maintain their goals with interventions, one-on-one support, and on-going preventative and harm reduction planning.
health & harm reduction
There are many barriers facing vulnerable youth that can hinder their ability to access health care: transportation challenges, overburdened healthcare systems, lack of mental health supports, and more. Giving young people access to healthcare professionals in a setting that feels familiar, safe, and stigma-free is essential to helping them lead a healthier life.
Our Outreach Centre hosts an on-site Addictions Counsellor and Public Health Nurse. The nurse is available at any time to see young people in their clinical space and offer medical advice, wound care, STI testing, flu shots, or any other health care support. Creating spaces that integrate accessible and judgement-free healthcare into places that youth are already frequenting increases the likelihood that they will receive medical treatment or support. Giving young people access to on-site counselling also increases the likelihood of accessing supports with mental health needs.
In addition to supporting emergent needs, our Outreach team focuses on harm reduction throughout all programming and services. The Outreach Centre is a Safe Works Access Program (SWAP) site which offers clean needles for young people, and also provides take-home Naloxone kits and training on how to use the Naloxone injector to any youth who requests one. Both of these services have been identified as necessary harm reduction tactics to help young people lead safe lives, while giving access to additional supports and resources when a young person identifies that they would like to stop using injection-based substances.
Over the past year, the team at Outreach supported:
The Outreach Centre at CFY is also a core member of the Downtown Health Care Collaborative and hosts a physician's clinic at the site in partnership with Eastern Health.
recreation & wellbeing
Providing opportunities that support overall mental and physical wellbeing plays a large role at our Outreach Centre. Recreational Programming is offered throughout the summer and winter months, and includes a variety of activities that promote physical movement and are inclusive for a variety of people. Yoga, swimming, indoor rock climbing, scavenger hunts, and softball games are often on the schedule during the warmer months, while snow shoeing, sliding, and trips to the local museum and archives are found on the docket for winter. Connecting young people to activities and hobbies that promote physical wellness can create lasting positive effects on their overall mental wellbeing.
Our Outreach Centre also hosts multiple programs that give young people access to outlets that support their mental health. The Artful Program offers participants art therapy and the chance to learn a new art technique or skill in a peer-to-peer support setting. Whether painting sugar skulls, doing water colors, or designing tie-dye t-shirts, participants are able to express themselves through the creative process and find new coping mechanisms that are transferable to other areas of their lives.
In addition to supporting ongoing mental and physical wellness, the Outreach Centre provides workshops on relevant topics and opportunities for young people to develop life skills. With the support of community partners in the public and private sector, we are able to host workshops on topics that young people are interested in, such as financial literacy, tattoo safety, and legal aid. Our on-site commercial kitchen offers the chance for young people to develop cooking skills or complete food safety training, while our community garden provides youth with the opportunity to learn to prepare, plant, and maintain a garden as well as harvesting crops.
In all of these programs and services, young people are continuously supported by staff and are connected to additional programs and services within the community that can best help youth move forward.