For close to 30 years, Choices for Youth (CFY) has been supporting young people with a variety of needs. What started as an organization focused on helping youth to access housing has evolved to offer support for just about every facet of a young person’s life. From meeting basic needs to focusing on training and sustainable employment, CFY is able to plug-in at any point in time where a youth might be facing challenges or barriers to progress. Our Outreach and Youth Engagement Centre has been a long-standing fixture in this continuum of supports. Located at 12-16 Carter’s Hill Place in the downtown core of St. John’s, we commonly refer to this site as the “front door” of CFY because it’s the most well-known, the most visited, and is usually a young person’s first point of contact with programs and services at CFY.
“Outreach”, as it’s more commonly known around our halls, hosts many different formal programs. For example, the Momma Moments program operates at this site and the Choices Shelter is also located at the back part of the building. This site also houses many ad-hoc initiatives like Artful and Music Group, it’s where we host events and workshops for young people, and it’s also the location of our Drop-in program. Drop-in is a time for young people to come into the site and get their needs met – this may include accessing computers and wi-fi, using the telephone, talking to a staff person, eating a warm meal, checking out any donations that have come in, or anything else that they identify as needing in the moment.
Meeting basic needs is the primary goal of Drop-in, but it is also an opportunity for a young person to connect with peers or professionals in a safe space. Youth can learn more about CFY programs and services beyond Drop-in, talk to a staff person and get connected to another organization or agency that can support them, or visit with a healthcare professional on-site. There are often volunteers in the kitchen helping Chef Lois prepare lunch, CFY events and celebrations happening inside or out, and always a friendly face welcoming young people at the door. Drop-in is about meeting basic needs as much as it’s about building relationships and fostering safe spaces for young people to identify how CFY can support them to meet their goals. It is meant to be a no barrier, no judgement outlet for young people to access as often as they need.
Measures to support at-risk or homeless young people have often focused on emergency response – shelters, drop-in programs, free meals, and other initiatives to help a young person in times of crises – however over the years the focus has shifted to include a focus on prevention. Our programming at CFY has adjusted as well; in addition to our emergency shelter and Drop-in programming we also have a variety of programs and services to help young people reach their goals in a stable and sustainable way. This includes multiple housing programs where youth have choice; programming for young families to change the trajectory of inter-generational poverty and homelessness; and opportunities for training, education and employment to help young people access meaningful and long-term employment. In all of this work our goal is to ensure young people have the level of support they need to set and achieve goals for a safe and stable future.