YMCA youth program scrambles for cash

Funding shift leaves gaps in services

Tiffany Cain might not be living in a home, might not have a job and might not be drug-free if it weren’t for the YM-YWCA’s outreach services.

“They’ve known me since I was 14,” said Cain, now 23. “It scares me to think about where I’d be if it weren’t for them.”

Cain was living on the streets and relying on drugs when the shabbily spray-painted white YMCA van first opened its doors to her. The outreach workers gave her food, but most importantly, a reason to live a better life. Even if there was no food, having someone to talk with and get advice from two or three times a week was crucial, she said.

She is deeply concerned the service might end. She calls the van’s two outreach workers her best friends. One even drove Cain to Vancouver, late at night, for emergency surgery – “off the clock.”

The Ministry of Children and Family Development has gone through what it calls a “contract restructuring,” which has left several services in the lurch.

Programs on the West Shore and in Saanich that offer preventative counselling for youth are gone. Some funding for the downtown outreach van is gone. And so is all funding for the supported independent living program – the one that got Cain into stable housing.

Janet Champion, the Victoria Y’s manager of outreach services, only recently heard about the cuts.

“Having these programs in a kid’s life helps them stay on the straight and narrow and achieve their goals,” she said. Most youth using the services were in foster or ministry care, and some were living on the streets.

The independent living program also saw staff facilitate co-operation between landlords and young tenants. Skill-building, including cooking and hygiene, was taught. Cain said the outreach workers even helped her build her first resume.

Champion said the outreach van likely won’t cease operation. “I just have to look at this and see how we can do it more efficiently.”

Ministry spokesperson Darren Harbord said the preventive student counselling and outreach van funding was transferred from the Y to the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society. The services “have been redeveloped using feedback and recommendations from South Island service providers. The contract is for three years at a cost of $441,000 per year,” he wrote in an e-mail to the News.

ecardone@vicnews.com