Thunder Bay

Need for permanent Dryden, Ont. youth centre becomes clear

A youth centre that operated temporarily during the summer in Dryden, Ont. might become a permanent fixture, potentially playing a vital role to give young people in the community a sense of belonging and addressing widespread mental health challenges.

More than 120 youth came to the centre during the 37 days it operated this summer.

Henry Wall is the chief administrative officer of the Kenora District Services Board. (Matt Vis/CBC)

A youth centre that operated temporarily during the summer in Dryden, Ont. might become a permanent fixture, potentially playing a vital role to give young people in the community a sense of belonging while addressing widespread mental health challenges.

The Dryden Youth Centre, located in an underutilized space that had formerly been used by the city for child care programs, operated for five days a week from early July until late August.

Kenora District Services Board chief administrative officer Henry Wall said the need for a facility was made evident through the youth pillar of the City of Dryden's community safety and well-being plan.

"What they heard, loud and clear back from youth in this community, is that they wanted a place to be," Wall said. "A place to be safe, a place just to hang out. It wasn't just necessarily the arena. They wanted a place of their own."

Wall said the district services board acquired the building from the municipality a few years ago, with the centre becoming operational with some extra funding that hadn't yet been allocated this summer to hire a full-time coordinator.

'Blew all of us away'

Over 37 days, more than 120 youth came to the facility, with close to 600 total visits.

"It blew all of us away just in terms of what a need it was," Wall said. "We knew there was a need but not to that extent. What it's done too is it's just given us that encouragement that we need to come together as a community and say we need to make this permanent."

The services board, which also oversees land ambulance in the Kenora District, has noticed that a significant proportion of calls involving psychiatric or emotional distress and behavioural issues is for youth. Wall said the leading demographics for those types of calls, by a wide margin, is 11 to 15 year old girls, followed by 16 to 20 year old females and males.

"As a community, we can't afford to not start looking at what your youth need and how we address the fact that we have many youth who are really struggling from a mental health standpoint," Wall said.

"That's just part of it. Having a centre like this, it provides that connection because many youth don't have that opportunity. Even some things like where (they) go to charge their phone before bed. Things may not be going well at home, so they have a place to be."

Wall, who credited the hard work of the multiple partners for making the facility possible, is fairly confident that within the next couple of weeks they'll be in a position to do it long-term.

"This wouldn't have happened if wasn't for the hard work of staff at the hospital, staff at the various school boards, staff at the city, at the police services board," Wall said. "It really came as a community saying this is what we need and how do we figure this out."

If successful, the partnership between agencies and municipalities could serve as a model for smaller communities in the region, like Sioux Lookout, Red Lake, Ignace and Vermilion Bay, he added.

"What we're hoping is when community agencies and the community itself comes together, it's a matter of saying that we all have a little bit and we can't do a whole lot but we start putting all that into one pot, all of the sudden we can do a lot," Wall said.

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