Project underway to reduce poverty and homelessness
Tim Brody - Associate Editor
A three year project aimed at preventing poverty and homelessness by increasing high school retention rates received another piece of that puzzle from area young people.
On October 2 high school students were invited to the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre for a free pizza party.
Participants were asked a series of questions which will inform Saakihitiwaac Tipenchikaywin (A Loving Family), a Sioux Lookout Youth Poverty Reduction Strategy Project.
The program is supported by a Local Poverty Reduction Fund grant awarded by the Government of Ontario and administered by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
Approximately 50 people attended the pizza party.
They were asked if they are currently in school or, if not, what they do.
Students were also asked if they identify as First Nation, Metis, Inuit, Status, or non-status.
Students also provided input on activities and programs they enjoy, programs and activities they would like to be involved with, activities they would like to see adults involved in, and activities they would like to see Elders involved in.
Those attending were also asked if they use the youth centre.
They also provided input on what they would like to see in their school, such as spaces or activities that would make them feel more comfortable or safe.
Finally, they were asked what they want adults to know about them.
Representatives from Lakehead University and the University of Waterloo have been selected to act as evaluators for the project, which is being administered by The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board.
The Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre and The Municipality of Sioux Lookout are also on board as project partners.
Sessions to gather input from stakeholders/service providers and parents/guardians are also planned.
The project’s focus is high risk students in Grades 7-12, many of whom are Indigenous.
“These youth are identified mainly through the school system. If teachers, counsellors are noticing certain things that are happening that are putting students at risk, or if their attendance is low, then we’ll know that this is a youth who could benefit from these supports,” explained project coordinator Brenda Dovick.
Red flags which may indicate a boy or girl is at high risk of dropping out of school include encounters with the law, irregular school attendance, academic underachievement, mental illness (e.g. anxiety, depression), homelessness and precarious housing, substance abuse.
Input gathered by the project will help establish initiatives, programs, and activities aimed at helping students complete high school.
Activities supported by the project to meet this objective include linking young people with services offering alternative therapeutic models such as expressive art therapy and equine assisted learning to address barriers to school completion (emotional/grief trauma, resilience, empowerment), participating in psycho-social and team building through the Hockey Canada Skills Academy (self-confidence, self-esteem, communication skills), empowering individuals and families through YOUCAN peer training, conflict resolution, and development skills (carpentry/mechanics) potentially address infrastructure skills deficits in remote First Nations, supporting development of job search skills and self-presentation strategies to facilitate future employment and develop self-esteem, building community capacity with school staff in culturally appropriate trauma informed practices, and assisting students in self-advocacy and resilience, and hands on land-based learning, and for Indigenous students, cultural teachings from Indigenous elders.
Anticipated short-term outcomes of the project are increased access to trauma counselling, improved school attendance and increase in students returning to school, reduced encounters with the law, increased confidence and self-esteem, increased social and cultural connections, and more/stronger multi-sector partnerships between organizations working with young people to ensure sustainability of the approach.
Anticipated mid-term outcomes include an increase in treatment for addiction, improved mental health/reduced diagnoses with anxiety/depression, improved grades at high school, and increased skills in specific activities (e.g., land-based).
Anticipated long-term outcomes of the project are increased graduation rates, increased youth employment, reduced homelessness, fewer suicide attempts and fewer deaths of young people, increased cultural competency in Sioux Lookout schools, and schools and organizations demonstrating trauma-informed approaches.
“The funding source, through Trillium, the funding stream is linked with the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy, so when this proposal was being developed, what was being stressed is that it’s really important to support youth in their education, because that is what’s going to support us in reducing poverty in our communities,” Dovick explained.
She added, “In the final year of the project, there will also be a street outreach component where we will be reaching out to youth who aren’t at all engaged in school, who have left school.”
The project is expected to wrap up in March of 2020.
Dovick said she is eager to hear from anyone in the community who wishes to provide input for the project. People can contact her at 807-737-0821.