Nova Scotia

Teens at Sydney youth centre under scrutiny say drugs and violence common

Two teenaged girls who live at the Comhla Cruinn youth centre say drugs and violence are commonplace, but chafe at some of the rules imposed by staff.

Girls also unhappy with restrictions imposed by staff at Comhla Cruinn

The coed Sydney youth centre houses up to eight young people between 12 and 18 and is the responsibility of the Department of Community Services, according to the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Two teenage girls who live in a Sydney residential youth facility under criticism from staff for "horrific" work and living conditions say drugs and violence are commonplace.

"There's a lot of drugs," said one girl, 14, who CBC News is not identifying because she is in the care of the province. "There's a lot of disrespect towards the staff."

She agreed she sometimes fears for her safety at the centre.

"I can't come home and worry about somebody getting beat up or shit going down, like, people talking. It's crazy. I don't feel safe." 

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, which represents many workers at the Comhla Cruinn centre, held a news conference Wednesday about its concerns. Union president Joan Jessome said staff are being "terrorized" by violent residents.

The coed centre has youth between 12 and 18 years old and the union said illegal drug use is widespread, both inside and outside the facility. Many residents are having unprotected sex, according Jessome.

The two girls at Comhla Cruinn who spoke with CBC News described their own problems with the youth centre.

"We're in foster care, if you can even call it that," said one 15-year-old. "We live in a house; this isn't a home and we have different [staff] people coming into our house every day. A lot of them can be disrespectful."

'You're basically owned by the government'

Both girls complain about how closely they're monitored at the centre and say there is no privacy or freedom.

"You're not allowed to do anything you want to do," said one. "You're basically owned by the government."

They said infractions sometimes result in a resident being sent to the Wood Street secure youth facility in Truro for 30 days. 

The girls said staff sometimes unwittingly escalate conflicts between residents by getting involved in situations where the young people would prefer to work things out themselves.

'Nobody's business'

"They don't let us solve our own problems," said the 15-year-old. "They don't let us make our own mistakes. They write it all in logs and they expect us not to freak out.

"We can't even talk to anybody without it being written in a log and basically have our whole life written down. It's nobody's business but ours."

The 14-year-old said some level of conflict among residents is natural.

"Basically, you're thrown in with all kinds of people you don't know and they're going to say stuff about you because they don't know you," she said.

"I have … beat up multiple people here, 'cause they go and tell my business to other people. And the staff break it up and they cry about how they're frightened or how they think they're in danger."

Both girls said they've had to defend themselves in physical altercations. One of the two readily admits she has a problem controlling her anger.

"I get really scared sometimes," she said. "I lock myself in my room most of the time and I sit there and I think about how I can do better. I have anger problems and I freak out at the staff. Everybody does, but I apologize and it just happens again. But … I try."

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