Correction appended January 27, 2015.
Last November, Head & Hands hired a second employee for its Street Work program, restoring the program to the capacity it had before budget cuts forced its discontinuation in 2011. The program was partially reinstated in 2013 with the hiring of a single street worker after substantial fundraising.
Head & Hands is an organization that caters to the needs of youth between the ages of 12 to 25 in Montreal who may not have access to certain resources, ranging from counselling to legal services to free condoms to clean needles.
Street Work is the group’s outreach program, whereby street workers move around the Notre- Dame-de-Grâce (NDG) neighbourhood to meet clients and provide services, such as active listening and on-the-spot counselling, while also conducting harm reduction and drug awareness workshops at schools, community centres, and group homes.
“[The program] focuses on supporting marginalized youth using an educational approach that’s rooted in risk reduction,” said Victoria Pilger, Funding and Partnerships Coordinator at Head & Hands.
“We have a team of two street workers and […] they reach youth on their own turf – in bars, parks, metros, group homes, shooting galleries, basically anywhere where youth can be reached.”
Donald*, a past client of Head & Hands, attributed many of his successes to the Street Work program in a video testimonial.
“Without it, people like me would continue to be on the streets. I wouldn’t be where I am today, I wouldn’t have an apartment, I wouldn’t be able to look for work, I wouldn’t be stable, I wouldn’t have my beautiful dog, I wouldn’t have my beautiful wife. You know, it helped me,” Donald said in the testimonial. “The Street Work program got me off the street.”
In 2011, the Street Work program was suspended after budget cuts forced the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) Montreal to cease funding for the program. According to Pilger, PHAC faced a near 30 per cent reduction in its budget.
“We’re seeing that government funding for all social programs [is] shrinking, especially for programs that are using a non-judgmental and harm-reduction approach,” said Pilger.
The program was partially reinstated in 2013 after Head & Hands began fundraising in the local community.
“We launched a two-year campaign and we turned to our community for support. Over those two years, we were able to partially re-launch the program in the fall of 2013 – we raised the funds to bring back one street worker full-time,” said Pilger. This fundraising continued until another street worker was hired in the fall of 2014.
“The Street Work program got me off the street.”
Since the program’s initial reinstatement in 2013, street worker Sara* has managed to reach almost 500 youth around the city. According to Sara, the addition of an extra street worker comes as a significant achievement for the program, and will allow Head & Hands to expand its focus while continuing to provide resources for those who currently require them.
“I go into schools, community centres, and group homes for the most part,” said Sara. “There’s always so much to do, and there [are] so many dreams I have for the program, [such as] having a little bit more time to vamp up the drug workshops and spend time [on it]. Thankfully, we got a new street worker, and we sort of shift our schedules so that we’re able to meet with more people.”
“[I also get to] develop deeper relationships with clients because I’m able to spend more time with them, because I know there’s another street worker who can take certain calls or go to certain areas that I haven’t been to in a while,” Sara continued.
“Having our Street Work program back means that now we’re able to listen and hear what’s going in our neighborhood from really important voices – from youth who see NDG from the perspective of homelessness, poverty, social exclusion, from within the youth protection system, and other experiences of marginalization,” said Pilger.
“Our street workers are able to be our eyes and ears on the ground […] and hear the voices of youth that we might not have been able to hear without the program.”
A previous version of this article stated that PHAC faced a near 13 per cent cut to its budget. In fact, it was a near 30 per cent cut. The Daily regrets the error.