It takes a lot of teaching and support before a young person can be independent out in the world as an adult. 

Many of Nanaimo’s youth would not be set up for success without the help of the Nanaimo Youth Services Association (NYSA)

“It’s sort of acting like that parent … preparing them for adulthood,” says Chris Lakusta, director of housing and the supportive living program at NYSA. 

In operation since 1969, NYSA provides a variety of services for youths age 15 to 30, with a focus on work experience and skills programs, as well as housing. 

NYSA runs the provincially-funded Bladerunners program – a combo of in-class training and work experience where youth are paid a stipend during the training period, they gather construction, customer service and/or retail skills, and then are connected up with an employer where the program pays the youth’s first few week’s wages. 

The association also runs the federally-funded DiverseFutures program, which works similarly to Bladerunners, but provides even more diversified support, with opportunities to seek counselling and more, while also paying minimum wage during training. 

The training, support and funding is meant to give employers an incentive to hire a youth that hasn’t had the same advantages as many of their peers, says Lakusta. For instance, whereas a young person with lots of family support going into the trades may have their work boots and other items paid for by their family, NYSA can do that through these programs to help youth make money and support themselves. 

“We do pretty extensive follow up and support,” Lakusta says. “If one job doesn’t work out, our job developer works pretty hard in the background to line them up with another job, addressing the issues that went wrong in the first one.” 

As for housing, NYSA runs two buildings

The first is the supportive living program for youth 16 to approximately 19. It has 22 units with several double units for young moms. Support staff are on hand 18 hours a day. Most youth living there are referred by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. There is a variety of supportive programming at the building, including skill-building that’s all in an effort to have residents ready for adulthood and independence. Monthly rent is kept down to the 30 per cent of income range. 

“These young people don’t necessarily have positive adult influences in their lives, and most of them are just attached to a social worker,” says Lakusta. “The more involved we are, the much more likely they are to be successful here.” 

But NYSA’s second housing program, known as Rowe House, is an option for youth who struggle to live independently or who simply can’t afford other housing. 

Rowe House is a rooming house for those 19 to 30-years old, with 14 single-occupancy rooms spread out over four floors. Each floor has a shared kitchen and shared bathrooms. To move in, residents must be employed, be attending school or a training program. 

Rent is about $625 a month, says Lakusta, noting that NYSA doesn’t have enough staff or funding to provide much in the way of on-site supports. 

“We are always advocating or trying to pull in someone to help us with funding for Rowe House,” he says. “We see how important the additional support is here at the youth building. We would love to offer the same level of support at Rowe House, but we struggle to find funding for that.” 

The need for the kinds of supports NYSA offers is substantial, says Lakusta, noting that their employment programs are constantly full, and estimating that, if NYSA could double the amount of housing it has available, it would be full within a matter of days. 

“There’s a large need … and we constantly have youth reaching out to use for services.” 

Becoming a member of the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition means the NYSA can act as an advocate for youth and their unique experiences while trying and struggling to support themselves in Nanaimo. 

To learn more about NYSA and to find out how to support NYSA, go to www.nysa.bc.ca . 

If you are a youth in need of support, call 250-754-1944. 

At the core of Haven Society is a simple belief: “We believe all people are entitled to live a violence-free life.” 

Those are the words of Dawn Clark who works at Haven Society – an organization that provides escape and support for those affected by family violence and other types of violence, as well as a variety of other services. 

And while violence affects everyone, it disproportionately affects some more than others. 

Haven Society clients are women, mothers and their children, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of colour, Indigenous people, immigrants, those with physical disabilities, and those in poverty, to name a few. 

“These are the folks who often receive negative social responses, and quite often aren’t able to articulate what they need from the powers that be,” says Clark, the director of education, quality improvement and special projects at Haven. 

First incorporated in 1978, Haven Society started as an answer to the growing awareness that violence and abuse within the family was a reality for many women and children in the community. 

To provide a safe place for these women and children, community volunteers took them in to their own homes. 

Now more than 40 years later, Haven Society provides a constellation of services, says Clark, including a transition house, a safe house, counselling services, a community victim services program that helps victims navigate the legal system, outreach, counselling to children who have experienced violence, rent supplements and subsidies, and much more. 

Since 2013, Haven has also operated in the Parksville/Qualicum area, opening Haven House there in collaboration with the Society for Organized Services (SOS). 

Working from feminist principles, Haven seeks to promote the integrity and safety of women, children, youth and families, and the development of a respectful and healthy community. 

It also serves as a link to services offered by other organizations. 

“I’m really proud that somebody can walk in through the front door here and not really know what they need, but we can support them in trying to figure that out,” says Clark. Whether the person needs supports through Haven, another organization or a combination of organizations, Haven is there to help, she says. 

“We care for the community, we care for the people who walk through our doors.” 

That willingness to work with other organizations is reflected in their longstanding membership with the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition, having been involved with the group even before that was its name. 

Haven is an important representative at the table, as violence is absolutely linked to homelessness, says Clark.  

“When families are experiencing violence, when women and children, for instance, come into our transition house or our safe home … the security of their housing is at risk because they’ve left their family home due to violence,” says Clark. 

“Once you leave your home because of a violent situation, you are at risk of becoming homeless.” 

By being at the NHC table, Haven is able to have the needs of their clients heard. 

“If I’m a mom, I’ve left [the family home] and I’ve got a couple of kids, I need to find a home, I need to put food on the table, I need to clothe them before I can even lift my gaze to think about other things. I need to make sure everybody is safe,” says Clark. 

And with such low rental rates in Nanaimo as well as Parksville and Qualicum, a single mom with kids is rarely a landlords first choice, she says. 

That’s one reason why what Haven Society does is so important. 

If you are looking for a way to support your community, volunteering or donating to Haven Society is a great way to do it.  

To get more info on volunteering, go to www.havensociety.com/volunteer . Or you can email volunteer@havensociety.com , or call 250-756-2452. 

To donate, go to www.havensociety.com/donations , or call 250-756-2452. 

To reach Haven Society’s crisis line, call 250-756-0616, or toll-free at 1-888-756-0616. 

Every night volunteers with Stone Soup Kitchen, run by the Wisteria Community Association, load up their van and travel around Nanaimo to distribute food, clothing and bedding to people experiencing homelessness.

Stone Soup Kitchen has been running for three years and is funded by private donations, bottle drives and a grant from Nanaimo Foundation. Local businesses like Little George’s Pizza and Panago Pizza also donate food.

Since the dismantling of the Wesley Street ecampment, reaching all the people experiencing homelessness is a challenge. The volunteers travel to the City parks and through the downtown core to distribute needed supplies.

“People are scattered around the city and in parks,” explains Tanya Hiltz, President of Stone Soup Kitchen. “The outreach workers are great at sharing information of who is where and who needs what.”

But Hiltz is worried about the safety of the people living unsheltered since being forced to leave Wesley Street.

“People are scared. They’re not safe when they are dispersed around the City,” says Hiltz. “We have to get these people back together. We need to advocate to get a parking lot for people to camp in so they can be together.”

Stone Soup Kitchen is looking forward to opening their own kitchen in early 2021. It’s designed around COVID regulations and allows eight people to work in the kitchen at one time.

For more information about Stone Soup Kitchen and Wisteria Community Association, visit: https://wisteriacommunityassociation.com/

They’re always accepting donations. Call Tanya at 250-591-6443 or drop-off donations to 155 Victoria Rd at any time.

A rent bank is opening in Nanaimo to help people with short-term rent arrears and utility payments. The rent bank provides loans which are paid back over a long period of time. This program helps people become financially stable so they don’t end up in a precarious housing or a homeless situation.

Opening in January, the rent bank is funded by the City of Nanaimo, Rent Bank BC, United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island and the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy. The program will be operated by the Nanaimo Region John Howard Society.

“We have lots of experience working with landlords through our housing programs, so it’s a good fit for us,” explains John McCormick, Co-Executive Director Nanaimo Region John Howard Society. “We can also work with applicants in other ways to stabilize their lives, if they need it. We can help people find employment. We can help people with food security.”

The rent bank is open to all. Anyone who is having trouble paying their rent can apply.

“If you’re struggling to make ends meet, you should call us. If it isn’t something that fits rent bank, we’re going to try and help in other ways,” says McCormick.

Application details will be published when the program opens in January.

The Nanaimo Region John Howard Society is an active member of Nanaimo Homeless Coalition. Together we’re working to develop and drive solutions to end homelessness.