Port Clements council has not yet decided whether to write a letter of support for the Haida Gwaii Youth Society’s $216,000 Gwaii Trust application – a letter which youth worker David Loewen says could mean the difference between life and death for the islands two teen centres.
Without a letter of support from each of the communities, he told council members last week (Feb. 16), the Gwaii Trust may not approve the funding application and the teen centres in Masset and Queen Charlotte will have to shut down for now.
“It doesn’t look great if you don’t have the communities supporting the proposal,” said Mr. Loewen, the outreach coordinator for the Haida Gwaii Youth Society. “We are desperately hoping this proposal gets funded.”
Money from the Gwaii Trust and the federal department of Western Economic Diversification has kept the teen program alive after the province suddenly withdrew funding last year, Mr. Loewen said. About 60 young people attend the Masset teen centre regularly, while the Queen Charlotte centre has been growing from 10 to 15 regular attendees to about 40 now, he said. (People up to age 26 are considered youth.)
However, a chunk of funding ran out last week and the rest will expire March 31. The Youth Society has applied for $216,000 from the Gwaii Trust to keep it going for the next year.
But that amount was a huge stumbling block for most of the Port council members, who said they found it hard to believe it could cost that much to run a teen program. Concerns about the application have also been expressed by Sandspit, Skidegate and Queen Charlotte.
The $216,000 is a reduction from the original application for $300,000, which Port earlier refused to support.
Mr. Loewen said the revised budget includes about $124,000 to run the two teen centres (about $80,000 of this is wages for two full-time youth coordinators), and about $90,000 for administration (this includes $50,000 for an administrator, and the rest for office equipment and other expenses). Much of the project involves setting up and running an all-islands “youth council” which will allow the young people to make decisions about what they want to do.
“Your original budget is not very far off ours,” mayor Dale Lore told him. “Those are comparable to wages we’re paying experienced adults… To me there’s got to be a cheaper way on the wage end.”
Councillor Gerry Johnson said he had several problems with the application, including the fact that it is for operating funds, which the Gwaii Trust was not set up to cover. He also asked who would be making decisions about how to spend the $216,000 and how people are appointed to the youth council. Mr. Johnson also suggested the Youth Society ask Queen Charlotte and Masset for money, since those communities are getting the lion’s share of the jobs and benefits.
Councillor Jukka Efraimsson suggested that the teen programs could be delivered by the QCI Rec Commission, already set up to run recreation programs on the islands.
But Mr. Loewen responded that the Youth Society is not as much about offering programs as it is about “youth empowerment”.
“It’s about creating conditions where youth are making decisions,” he said. “It’s about the youth saying what they want, not well-meaning adults.”
He got support from councillor Lisa Gyorgy, who said people who have concerns about the amount of money should spend time at the teen centres, talking to young people and checking out what is going on.
“It is really hard to justify and explain those dollars to people who haven’t been on the front lines, trying to keep these kids off the streets,” she said. “I can see the needs.”
Council members agreed to make a decision later about whether to support the Youth Society’s revised application, probably at their next meeting March 1.
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