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New outreach program funded

Local governments have agreed to pay for a new youth outreach program aimed at reducing the misuse of drugs and alcohol on the Sunshine Coast.

Local governments have agreed to pay for a new youth outreach program aimed at reducing the misuse of drugs and alcohol on the Sunshine Coast.

A team of youth outreach workers will be hired to work with young people, providing support and referrals to existing services and intervening, when needed, to protect youth at risk. Gale Woodhouse, coordinator of the Gibsons and Elphinstone Community School, said this is a program young people want."[When surveyed] kids were asking very specifically for someone they could talk to, someone they could connect with," she said. "We've got some kids out there who are almost beyond our reach we're losing them in the school system."

The outreach workers will concentrate their efforts on evenings and out-of-school times. If possible, the organizers of the outreach program would like to set up youth drop-in programs in Sechelt, Gibsons and Pender Harbour.

"They're not going to be spying on the kids. They're someone for kids to talk to," said Woodhouse. "Once the kids know and trust you, they invite you in. The outreach workers are qualified, they're experienced, they're adults, and they know who to call when things get out of hand."

The Sunshine Coast Regional District has budgeted $25,000 for the program in 2005 ($6,000 of which will come from the District of Sechelt) and the Town of Gibsons has budgeted $27,500. The Gibsons Thrift Store has contributed another $10,000.

Chris Denley, coordinator of Youth in Transition and the Reconnect program, said the leadership of municipal government is crucial for getting this program off the ground.

"Hats off to them for recognizing youth as a resource," Denley said.

The outreach program grew out of the work of the Sunshine Coast Youth Alcohol and Drug Community Response Strategy committee over the past several years. The committee is a broad-based group of people working with youth on the Sunshine Coast, including local community schools, service groups, the SCRD's parks and recreation department, police, the school district, the Ministry of Children and Families, public health nurses and mental health and addiction services for the Sunshine Coast.

"It's an inter-agency, collaborative approach, a meeting of the minds," Woodhouse said.

Woodhouse and her colleagues emphasize the team approach, saying the outreach workers will work closely with the school system and community services.

Barry Janyk, mayor of Gibsons, said the new youth outreach program is a "serious undertaking."

"They're trying to deal with issues that are constantly coming up, hopefully not in a reactive way," said Janyk. "It's not 'say no to drugs.' If it was, I would not support it, because that's not working."

Janyk said the first year is a pilot project. Local governments will receive quarterly reports detailing the program's expenditures, activities and accomplishments. There will also be informal weekly reporting to provide ongoing support to the outreach team.

"It's not what I would refer to as a candy-ass program. I think kids will be attracted to it," Janyk said.

Gibsons council voted April 5 that the project "be encouraged and that the outreach worker spend a significant amount of time in Gibsons." Councillors Angela Letman and Andrea Goldsmith argued that youth problems in Gibsons are a growing concern and that the town's tax money should be spent in Gibsons, not other areas of the Coast.

Janyk responded that requiring a certain amount of time to be spent in Gibsons puts restraints on the program.

"They have to focus on the problems where they are, and they're not just in Gibsons," Janyk said. "Young people have the ability to move around on a Friday night like the weather."

Another political concern has been the issue of downloading - that social services such as youth outreach have traditionally been paid for by the provincial and federal governments, not by municipalities.

"We're definitely in an area that's non-traditional but we can't turn our backs on young people," Janyk said. "I still feel it isn't really our mandate to do these things, but it is our social responsibility to make sure our young people are taken care of."- With a file fromIan Jacques

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