Nfld. & Labrador·Exclusive

In: Why are more young adults needing homeless help in St. John's?

It's hot roast beef that's on the menu at Choices for Youth on a typical Wednesday evening, when the CBC's Kenny Sharpe paid a visit.

A record number of young adults turned to Choices for Youth for help in 2015

Johnny Osmond and Ashley Philpott finish their bowl of a homemade Sauce'n Cake dessert. Birthday cake will also be served tonight. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

Every Wednesday is hot supper night at Choices for Youth on Carter's Hill in St. John's.

On this particular Wednesday, it's hot roast beef that's on the menu.

Lois Dinn has been cooking out of the Choices for Youth kitchen for half a year now. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

For cook Lois Dinn, it's also her birthday.

You'll find young adults like Johnny Osmond and Ashley Philpott. Increasing numbers of them are turning to Choices for Youth for a good meal and a good time.

Osmond is 24 and is from Deer Lake.

Philpott is 21 and originally from St. John's.

As they get close for a picture, they look at one another and laugh.

"I did my hair because I knew I'd be getting my picture [taken]," Philpott jokes.

A chalkboard marks the occasion and the dinner. The guitar and mic hint that there may even be some tunes later in the evening. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

Philpott and Osmond are two of about 40 mouths who will eat here tonight. One estimate suggests that by the end of the year, more than 1,000 different people will have made use of the various services that Choices for Youth offers.

A record year.

Free programs, services & events

A hand-written poster advertising an upcoming safe tattoos presentation.

On any given day or nigh,  there are other free programs offered here, like a safe tattoo workshop, group sessions to help new or expecting mothers, and now that winter is here, a chance for snowy hikes in the woods or maybe even a group boil-up.

Josh MacDonald finishes his beef and moves on to the mashed potatoes.

All year round at this outreach centre, young adults like Josh MacDonald, 27, are able to make good use of a delicious meal that's free. Not only is supper offered each Wednesday evening, lunch is provided Monday to Friday.

MacDonald is originally from New Brunswick. He's been in St. John's for "a while" now.

A bowl of condoms sits on a table in the common lounge area. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

There is free internet access, and a bowl stuffed with condoms. Art sessions are available, as well as a small but important pantry filled with everything from baby diapers to pasta, all on the shelf for the taking.

There's also the opportunity for one of the dozen or so staff members here to lend an ear and have a chat with those who walk in — a service as important if not more valuable than the food and supplies that are offered for free.

Diapers, baby formula and baby food, as well as some disinfectant wipes, sit on one of a few dozen shelves in the pantry. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)
Hygiene products for men and women are compartmentalized into bins. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

MacDonald is sitting around a table chatting with 24-year-old Kyle Moores, who is originally from the west coast of Newfoundland.

Kyle Moores is originally from the Deer Lake region. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

From the far, far east, Inna Urovski comes in and grabs a seat next to the two guys. She's also here for a bite to eat. Originally from Russia, Urovski, who was about to turn 30 when I met her, has been living in St. John's for nearly a third of her life.

'These people are like my family.'

Inna Urovski said she was excited to be turning 30 in mid-December. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

"I like it here, these people are like my family," Urovski said.

By the end of 2015, Choices for Youth estimates it will have helped about 1,000 different people, a record number for the not-for-profit outreach group.

"There has been an increase every year in the number of young people we are serving and supporting," says Angela Picco, who serves as the Campaign and Development Officer with Choices for Youth.

Statistics from Choices for Youth show an increase in the number of young adults, year after year, who are turning to the group for help. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

Picco says the reason for the increase in the number of young adults they are seeing is complex but says it has to do with several factors.

These include: 

  • a lack of affordable housing
  • gaps in systemic services
  • an increase in the number of families living in poverty
  • a focus on mental health and treatment options 
  • an increase in awareness of Choices for Youth's services.
Program Coordinator Jill Doyle jokes around with Inna Urovski. Kyle Moores sits off in the distance. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

"For some young people facing homelessness, on any given night that might mean choosing between living on the street, or living in unsafe housing where there are no locks and where there is criminal activity taking place in the house," said Picco.

'I became homeless at 16'

People who turn to Choices for Youth for help include Travis Fowler, who seven years ago was in a much more difficult place. He said Choices for Youth helped him get through a stint of life that was much different than the one he is living today.

Travis Fowler says the people he met and the guidance he received from Choices for Youth helped steer him back on track. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

"I became homeless at 16, was struggling with some addictions and mental health issues but mostly with being bullied, and had nowhere to go," said Fowler.

Fowler said it was the help he received and the people he met through Choices for Youth that got him back on track.

Today, he is enrolled in carpentry school and acts as a role model for newcomers to the centre, who are going through stresses similar to what he was going through when he first walked through these doors.

A pride flag is painted on one of the door windows. This is the main entrance to the lounge and eating area at the outreach centre. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

It's Lois's birthday

As mentioned, tonight is hot roast beef night at the centre, but it's also the cook's birthday.

Lois Dinn has a hot roast beef recipe that has the room smelling of gravy and mashed potatoes.

Cook Lois Dinn leans in to blow out her birthday candle. The room fills with people singing Happy Birthday. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

For the last six months, she has been cooking meals here five days a week.

Tonight, she says, she turns "29."

On a regular Wednesday night, it's a special occasion that few here who know her would miss for the world.

There may have been homemade Sauce'n Cake for dessert, but there’s also birthday cake. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)
Volunteer Anna Callahan packs some roast beef dinners for takeout and hands them to anyone who wants one. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)
A thank-you note posted on a door belonging to one of the outreach workers. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)
Inspirational messages are all around. This one reads, “Hope … we should not let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes and a leader is a dealer in hope.” (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

Kenny Sharpe's In: A series

This has been the eighth instalment of In, a series that aims to take you inside places we don't often see. If you have a place or a topic that you think Kenny Sharpe should explore, send him an email (kenneth.sharpe@cbc.ca) or follow him on Twitter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kenny Sharpe

Reporter

Kenny Sharpe is currently reporting in Europe as part of the 2022 Arthur F. Burns Fellowship for Foreign Correspondents. Originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, he reports on daily news with a focus on the environment, mental health and politics.

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