The Houston Youth Committee (HYC), a sub-committee of the Houston Harms Reduction Committee that’s been active for the past 18 months, is considering the creation of a local youth centre in Houston.
Last week council approved issuing a letter of support for this initiative, which is still in its early stages, said Gerald Pinchbeck, Houston’s chief administrative officer.
“This is a significant first step,” said Paul Batley, a HYC member. “The committee will now establish a more concrete description of what the centre could look like.”
The idea to create a youth centre originated from discussions with various agencies that provide support services in Houston, said Batley.
“The committee became aware that the local youth do not have a safe gathering place. The questions that then arose were, ‘How do we tackle this situation? What would a solution look like?’”
Batley said that having a centre dedicated to youth could help tackle the issue of opioids in Houston.
Despite its size and remoteness, Houston has been disproportionately impacted by B.C.’s opioid crisis, according to a district staff report from last year. Disposed needles have been found in public areas such as parks, schoolyards, boulevards and alleyways.
“We consider the operation of a youth centre crucial to encouraging healthy lifestyle choices, providing education regarding numerous pertinent health related topics for youth, and ultimately mitigating the seductive presence of narcotics and narcotic use,” said Batley.
The importance of a designated youth space was determined through focus groups.
Batley said that, over the last 18 months, the committee has facilitated several focus groups with Houston’s youth to inquire into the activities that are missing in the community and would be of benefit to them.
Batley said the focus groups showed that many of the local youth struggle with financial barriers to participate in local recreational opportunities, and feel that the community does not have a place for them.
“In response to the needs demonstrated in the focus groups, the committee has rallied to offer programming to supplement recreational activities already available in the community,” he said, referring to free movie events, dodge ball tournaments and video game evenings.
In addition, HYC has partnered with Link to Learning, Dze L’Kant Friendship Centre Society and Bulkley Valley School District 54 to provide cooking programming at Houston Secondary School.
Batley said the proposed youth centre will largely be community-driven and involve numerous partners, including Northern Health and the Dze L’Kant Friendship Centre Society.
“Logistics and approvals are still in the planning phase,” he said, adding that HYC is currently in the process of establishing a feasible location for the youth centre and an operational mandate.
The Houston Youth Committee meets monthly to promote and coordinate “healthy and fun” youth activities in the community, said Batley, adding that their events continue to have strong attendance.
The committee is made up of health care professionals and representatives from the District of Houston, RCMP, local schools, Dze L’Kant Friendship Centre Society and other service providers.