YMCA youth program funding dries up

Cuts leave gaps in services for vulnerable teens

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, who is now 23. “It scares me to think about where I’d be if it weren’t for them.”

Cain was just a teenager 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, is the reason Cain 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.”

Janet Champion, the local Y’s manager of outreach services, just found out about the cuts. The Ministry of Children and Family Development recently went through a “contract restructuring,” which leaves several services in the lurch.

Two programs that bring staff to the West Shore and to West Saanich for preventative counselling with youth are gone. Some funding for the outreach van is gone. And so is all funding for the supported independent living program – the one that got Cain into stable housing.

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

The independent living program went further than finding stable housing for teens and young adults.

Staff worked with landlords to encourage co-operation with the young tenants. Skill-building was involved, including cooking and hygiene.

Cain said the outreach workers even helped her build her first resume.

Funding for the independent living program dried up in fall 2010, Champion said, and it hasn’t been operating for months. The other programs were just cut this month.

“I think the cuts … are very deep and the impact will only start to emerge later this year,” Champion said.

She added the outreach van likely won’t cease operation. “I just have to look at this and see how we can do it more efficiently,” perhaps with less food and fewer trips.

Darren Harbord, a spokesperson for MCFD, 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.

Cain said while she doesn’t use the outreach services anymore, she’s concerned about teens who are currently in the situation where she came from, and how they’ll find the help they need.

“I’m scared to think what would happen to people who will lose out on that service,” Cain said.

“I think there’d be a lot lower rating of success stories by (young) people who are in that situation.”

ecardone@vicnews.com

By the numbers

Youth outreach at the Victoria YM-YWCA, a non-profit organization, is partly funded by MCFD.

The Y’s annual StrongKids fundraiser collected $117,000 this year, which goes into various programs, including outreach.

Other funding sources contribute to certain aspects of the organization’s outreach programs.