Over twenty years ago the RAFT began offering services to youth through its drop-in centre. A small group of concerned people decided that they would make a difference in the lives of a few young people. They determined that young people shouldn’t have to live outside either physically or emotionally. Some years later another small group of people decided that more than a drop-in was required to make a difference and they set out and were ultimately successful in opening Niagara’s first youth specific shelter. The path was not easy and at times failure seemed a certainty but even when the lights went out this groups’ passion could not be extinguished. Many years later, another group of people, not so small this time, determined that young people shouldn’t have to become homeless in the first place. This group set out to prevent youth homelessness and ultimately end youth homelessness. Our inspiration is our history; our passion is our present, and our faith is our future.
Since setting out on our mission to prevent youth homelessness we have seen a number of successes. In 2008, Youth Reconnect began as a pilot project in Fort Erie and now services the entire Region of Niagara. Our shelter use is decreasing yearly, down over 40% since 2008, which means hundreds of young people never became homeless. Building partnerships with schools just makes sense, every school in Niagara is now a virtual door to ending youth homelessness and every teacher is an outreach worker. Ending youth homelessness couldn’t happen without the alignment of our missions to educate and house our youth. We are excited that this innovative Niagara project was selected as one of Ontario's Social Impact Bonds pilots. When implemented this new funding will allow us to scale our program into Hamilton and Haldimand-Norfolk, allow for even more youth to stay in school and remain housed.
Prevention is more than just one program, it is a philosophy. Over the last few years we have reviewed our organization to ensure that all of our efforts work toward this common goal. I’m very happy to see this alignment and all of us are fully engaged in our mission. Eternal Routes has worked with many young people who are looking to connect with family and friends, their number one goal is to understand “who they are and how they fit in this world”. I can’t express what a joy it has been to work alongside these young people as they undertake this critical journey. Our Youth in Transition has helped over 60 youth secure housing, education and employment. It is amazing what a little extra help can accomplish. Our After School Matter’s program remains a fundamental part of the daily lives of over 900 youth in Niagara. With the help of the United Way of St. Catharines and District and Canadian Tire Jumpstart we are able to provide kids with the tools they need to prosper. Our first group of young people that we met several years ago is now nearing graduation from both college and university and we couldn’t be prouder of them.
Our journey has been long and our mission has been handed down from group to group both small and large. I like to think that the first small group of volunteers would be proud of what their organization has become and it’s a constant reminder that reaching out to help a few can ultimately change our country.