What is homelessness in rural Alberta?
Homelessness affects Alberta province-wide, not just major urban centres like Calgary and Edmonton. While Alberta's larger cities see explicit examples of homelessness- people sleeping in parks or transit stations- rural areas can experience homelessness in a more hidden way.
In Camrose, homelessness has grown in a quiet way. Throughout the week youth often move from one friend's couch to another in search of shelter, or are found sleeping in their cars with no reliable address. Rural homelessness can't always be seen on the streets, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.
Recognizing this issue, the Camrose Open Door Society decided to take action against youth homelessness and brought the PEER Connections Café to life.
How can a Café Re-Engage vulnerable youth?
Employees of the Open Door Association realized that a lack of work experience was a critical obstacle preventing many teens from becoming employed and getting off the streets.
The Open Door Association came up with a solution. They would create their own youth employment opportunities. While other employers chose not to take a chance in hiring un-skilled youth, PEER Connections Café saw the opportunity to teach and empower the young and at-risk people in their community.
Every four months, the Café puts six at-risk youths through their program. The teens involved are paid a wage, given access to housing, taught budgeting and engaged with like-minded youth. By the time they complete the program, they have real-world work experience, a great reference when seeking future jobs and the knowledge and confidence that they have the skills necessary to succeed in the workforce.
What does help look like?
The Café's unassuming storefront has fostered a comprehensive support system for Camrose's at-risk teens, while serving up a stellar cup of coffee, since 2009. If you're in the Café, there's a good chance you'll run into the association's Executive Director, a towering man with a thin build and humble eyes. His name is Randal Nickel, and it's his tireless work that makes the program possible.
Randal and the PEER Connections staff are passionate about helping Camrose youth and are always ready to offer a second chance to those who ask for it.
The Rural Alberta Development Fund provided $1 million to create and launch the innovative social enterprise program, PEER Connections Café, which combines employability skills development with work experience for rural, at-risk youth, aged 15 to 24. The program is modeled to be transferable to other Alberta communities - a truly scalable outcome of RADF's investment.
What does progress look like?
Taylor, a former employee at PEER Connections Café, has first-hand understanding of how beneficial the Café program is.
Already a mother at age 15, Taylor's resources were spread thin. The inability to adequately provide stability for herself and her baby was a constant challenge, putting her at a high level of risk. Lacking workplace skills made it hard for her to find a job, especially one that would accommodate her needs as a mother.
While searching for work, she found PEER Connections Café. The four-month program made such an impact on her life that instead of moving on and transferring her new skills to a different job, she decided to extend her stay as a Café supervisor.
What had the most impact on Taylor? She learned that an honest job, with responsibility and commitment, can be fun and engaging. It was a feeling she'd never had before.
Taylor has since moved to Red Deer and continues to share her positivity and work ethic with her new coworkers. She has also regained the confidence to continue working towards the high school diploma she was unable to obtain in her early teens. Things keep getting better for Taylor, and you need only ask her to find out that Peer Connections Café was the key factor in leading her on the path to a happy and inspiring life.