The Outreach and Youth Engagement Centre is considered the front door of Choices for Youth. It’s a place where young people can have a hot meal, feel safe, and build trusting relationships. It is also a place where youth can access an array of low-barrier supports to address their needs and wellness.
The staff at Outreach work diligently to address the immediate needs of young people, while building meaningful relationships that allow staff and youth to work together to identify/pursue goals. The Outreach staff are often the first people the young people come to when in crisis; be it mental health, housing, family or relationships. At this site, and with the support of staff, young people are able to access appropriate supports, assistance with navigating complex social service systems, and form long-term supportive relationships that can help meet their evolving needs.
We strive to meet youth where they are.
At the Outreach & Youth Engagement Centre, our focus is to foster a relationship of trust with the youth and establish a sense of belonging and community. It is important to foster a safe space for youth, where they can be heard both physically and emotionally.
The Front Door
Outreach staff work from a harm reduction approach where the goal is to empower young people to make informed choices to minimize harm. Some examples include: providing transportation, ensuring emergency housing, providing SWAP supplies, ensuring youth attend legal appointments, and providing pantry food.
As Outreach is the front door to Choices, we provide low barrier health care, in partnership with the Downtown Health Collaborative; over the past year, we’ve held two COVID-19 vaccination clinics, as well a mobile ‘Covid Cruiser’ at our Carter’s Hill location for both vaccination doses. Our efforts for low barrier health care are a year-round initiative, providing flu shots, as well having a Public Health Nurse, Nurse Practitioners and doctors on site five days a week. There is also an addictions counsellor, in partnership with Eastern Health, onsite daily who provides an accessible route to counselling without a referral or lengthy waiting list. Having a multidisciplinary team of professionals who offer an array of services in one location really support our vision of offering services from integrated service delivery approach. One of the challenges we faced over the course of the pandemic, was the prevalence of tele-medicine and its inaccessibility for some youth. At Outreach, we provided computer and phone access for youth, who otherwise do not have the means, to connect with counselling and doctor appointments.
Food is the heart of Outreach, and with the many services that are provided, it’s important for youth to have access to a hot, hearty meal every day. The meal that young people have at Outreach, may be the only meal they have that day. These meals allow youth to sit down, connect with staff or peers, and relax while fostering relationships. In addition to this, we provide personal care items, and a place to use a phone and computer.
Although the pandemic has been tough, we’ve adapted and accommodated public health guidelines that ultimately keep youth and staff safe. Limited capacity “sittings” were created to ensure youth could still enter the building while staying safe. Sanitization protocol is being followed at Carter’s Hill Place location and in staff vehicles to allow for transportation.
Relationship Building is Key
Oftentimes, youth’s interactions with staff can be crisis driven and problem focused – which is exactly what we are there for. However, there is something incredibly special about sharing moments with youth that are enjoyable and can be reflected upon as memorable in some way. Not to mention, mentoring, modeling, and participating in recreational activities is a fun and effective way to teach healthy coping strategies and is key in relationship building.