Thunder Bay

Racism, isolation negatively impacting Thunder Bay youth, research finds

New research into issues facing youth in Thunder Bay, Ont., has found that racism, discrimination, isolation due to transportation issues and a lack of mental health supports are among the problems.

Research comes from the Wellesley Institute's Supports for Success project

Bonnie Krysowaty is the community engagement lead with the Wellesley Institute's Supports for Success project in Thunder Bay. She said lack of communication between service providers means youth in the city don't always get connected with the programs they need. (Bonnie Krysowaty)

New research into issues facing youth in Thunder Bay, Ont., has found that racism, discrimination, isolation due to transportation issues and a lack of mental health supports are among the problems.

Toronto's Wellesley Institute presented preliminary findings from its Supports for Success project Wednesday at a community feedback session at the West Thunder Community Centre.

The goal of the project is to improve outcomes for marginalized youth in areas such as education and socio-economic status.

Another problem researchers identified, is that some service providers work in silos when they should be working together to get youth to the right services, said Bonnie Krysowaty, the community engagement lead on the project.

"So 'organization A' might have a great program, and 'organization B' may also have a great program, but they don't know about each other's programs so they can't direct people towards the correct programs," she said.

Focus groups, interviews and consultations

Agencies do work together via round-tables, such as the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy, Krysowaty added, but none are focused specifically on youth.

Researchers gathered their information through focus groups with youth, parents and caregivers, through interviews with service providers and through consultations with expert researchers, she said.

There are still a couple of focus groups to come.  

They also analyzed social networks to see what kinds of supports already exist for youth in the city, from the prenatal stage right up to the start of their careers.

The things that are working well include youth hubs such as Evergreen: A United Neighbourhood, Krysowaty said.

Among the things the city lacks are mental health supports, she added.

Mental health supports needed

"If it's two in the morning, and a youth has a mental health crisis, the only option for them is to go to the emergency room at the hospital," Krysowaty said. "There's waiting lists for youth that need mental health supports."

Physical isolation is also a problem, she added.

"Transportation can be a barrier for many people — the walkability between bus stops, for example, the cost of riding the bus," she added.  "If you're new to the city, it's hard to navigate, especially on a bus."

While the fixes to some of the problems identified in the research could be both costly and time-consuming, Krysowaty said improving communication between organizations is a good place to start.

"We've [got] a lot of people and a lot of organizations and agencies that do have a lot of funding power and power to change policy and create new policies," she said. "If we work together on that, we can have more successes."

Thunder Bay one of four sites for research

The Wellesley Institute is an organization devoted to improving health and health equity in the Greater Toronto Area through action on the social determinants of health, such as income and social supports.

Supports for Success is a partnership with the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health and the Centre for Citizenship and Community at UCLan (the University of Central Lancashire) in the United Kingdom. 

The project is focused on four sites that the institute says represent a cross-section of Ontario:  Thunder Bay, Kingston, Brant and Scarborough.