City renovates social housing units with youth apprentices

The city arranged an apprenticeship program for unemployed youth to help fix empty social housing units in disrepair. It provide job skills training and helps cut wait lists for social housing

With units sitting empty while being in demand, training unemployed youth addresses 2 needs

The city of Hamilton arranged an apprenticeship program for unemployed youth to help fix empty social housing units in disrepair. It provide job skills training and helps cut wait lists for social housing. 0:47

Skyler Shadid used to sleep in parks, and did a stint in jail, but today the 21-year-old is feeling "very confident" about his future employment prospects.

Shadid is participating in a pre-apprenticeship program that uses youth to renovate social housing units in Hamilton's east end. It's a plan with the dual purpose of creating more social housing space and giving job skills training to young people at the same time.

John Grant, the executive director of the Threshold School of Building says the strategy is a "win win."

Real heart

CityHousing Hamilton, in partnership with the Threshold School of Building, is sponsoring the program. Their assignment is to renovate a number of social housing units that are not currently suitable to live in.

Each young worker who spoke with the CBC said their participation in the program raised their confidence about entering the job market. Another refrain was that the experience had increased their feelings of self-worth. Some said the program had refined their interest in a particular area like electrical work or carpentry.

"I've definitely been through some struggle," said Shadid.

"Living in my mom's basement, living outside and sleeping in parks. Literally coming from nothing."

But, he said, "Doing everything I've done to better my life, this program has really helped me."

Skyler Shadid and Robin Pringle learn tiling work inside one of Hamilton's social housing units. (Dave Beatty/CBC)

David Boles, one of the instructors who has 30 years of contracting experience, said the program shows how the city has heart.

He spoke with the CBC in between instructing a young man painting an upstairs wall.

"I feel like they're really behind this kind of housing and this kind of need."

"I get great satisfaction out of this," Boles said, calling the experience "a phenomenal thing to be a part of."

"Look at what I did."

These renovations have been spurred by a substantial demand for social housing. A city council motion from July says that roughly 5,700 people are on the waiting list for a unit, and at the end of 2015 there were 127 units empty -- unusable because of disrepair.

The program was moved by Chad Collins, the Ward 5 councillor who is president of CityHousing Hamilton. It specifies that all 10 of the 18-to-29 year-olds selected to do the work must either live in social housing themselves or receive Ontario Works benefits.

Robin Pringle, 24, is one of two women in the renovation crew. "It's been good, we crack a lot of jokes and stuff, and everybody gets along.

"I do all the same things as the guys," Pringle said.

"I definitely think more women should be in the trades," said Pringle, adding that she thinks women may bring skills to the table that men typically do not.

Pringle said she appreciates the chance to be so productive each day.

"You get to see your hard work at the end of the day and you can say, 'Look at what I did.' And that's a good feeling."

Skyler Shadid, 21, says the pre-apprenticeship program has built his confidence around future employment. All the experience he's getting right now "looks great on your resume," he said. (Dave Beatty/CBC)

dave.beatty@cbc.ca | @dbeatty