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.