• Dagma Koyi

Part 3 of 4: How Black Youth Matter Peel is empowering homeless and at-risk youth

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

In part 3 of this four-part series on youth homelessness and mental heath, we provide information about R.E.S.T’s Christmas Cheer Campaign and Black Youth Matter Peel program.

Photo Credit: Sushil Nash from Check out more of his work here: Click here to donate to the Christmas Cheer Campaign.

Homelessness is a harsh reality that unfortunately many youth face – regardless of their gender, race or ethnicity. The physical and emotional struggles they experience are some that many of us cannot even begin to imagine. While coping with those situations is challenging enough, it is devastating to know that some youth have to deal with additional stressors simply because of their race. In fact, compared to White youth, Black youth face much more discrimination when it comes to finding housing and employment. Moreover, youth in this community experience a greater number of arrests and police harassment cases. It is no surprise then that we find higher proportions of mental health issues and suicide rates in the Black homeless youth population. R.E.S.T’s Black Youth Matter Peel (BYMP) program is dedicated to combating these issues and addressing the service gaps that exist in the community for Black youth.

The BYMP program offers a support line for Black Youth between the age of 13-24 who are at risk, or homeless. Although several general programs exist to help the homeless youth population, many don’t consider the fear or understand the experiences that Black Youth specifically may go through. Therefore, the BYMP program is aimed towards providing for the specific cultural needs of these young people. Support Line Counsellor Faithful Poku states, “Black youth have never had something that they know is for them. With the support line, they can be assured that whenever they call, they will be speaking with someone who can understand what they’re going through.” Support line counsellors can provide informal counselling to gauge where youth are at, provide stress management tips and assist with general mental wellness. If required, youth can then be referred to social workers in the community for further counselling.

Being conscious of the fact that many young people are unaware of this program, R.E.S.T has increased its accessibility by reaching out to various service providers in the community who refer Black youth to the support line. Support line counsellor Rebecca Harper adds, “we also recognize that it’s common for youth to be afraid to ask for help. For this reason, if we receive information and permission from service providers, we are happy to reach out to youth rather than only waiting for them to call.” Especially during the pandemic when times can feel extra lonely, this program can provide youth with the emotional support, and comfort that they may require.

While the support line is one aspect of the BYMP program, there are also various workshops that are organized to teach Black youth essential life skills and empower them to succeed. So far, 5 workshops have been held and more are being planned for the future. Additionally, the program has a show on YouTube that features youth who discuss issues that Black Youth all over Canada may experience. These issues range from mental health, homelessness, policing, etc. Not only does the show bring these issues into light, but it also highlights possible solutions to overcome them.

For youth who may be experiencing mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, the services that the BYMP program offers can provide them with the resources, companionship and support they may require. It gives them the option to call any time they need someone to talk to. This can be especially comforting to youth who may be feeling lonely, anxious or afraid. For instance, Rebecca recalls having a conversation with a single mother who was very worried as her son could possibly be getting diagnosed with autism. Rebecca states, “I was able to comfort her and provide her with additional immediate resources. That helped her feel a lot better and be calmer.” The program gives youth an overall positive outlook, hope and a helping hand to overcome trying situations.

Having people who care about your well-being and want to see you succeed is sometimes all it takes to feel empowered. However, many homeless youth don’t have families or are not in connection with them. Especially during the holiday season, R.E.S.T as an organization recognizes that many young people feel even more lonely. With Christmas being all about family gatherings, and sharing and receiving gifts, it is unfortunate that youth are unable to create these memories. Therefore, R.E.S.T is taking the initiative to bring some Christmas cheer! R.E.S.T has organized fundraising programs for people in the community to donate money and gifts. By the week of December 18th, the R.E.S.T board will be purchasing and wrapping gifts and distributing them so that youth can receive them before Christmas. In return, youth will feature in a video that R.E.S.T will be sharing with all those who donated. When speaking with R.E.S.T founder Dagma Koyi, about what these gifts mean to young people, she states, “we requested youth in REST programs to provide us with a wish list. With many of the young people feeling isolated and disconnected, even just asking them that question meant so much to them and gave them a sense of belonging.” R.E.S.T recognizes that even though these young people are in vulnerable precarious situations, they still have the same desires of having a memorable Christmas as other individuals of their age. We hope that we can work with the community to brighten up the holiday season for youth!

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