Nick & Taylor are a young couple in their early 20’s who regularly come to the HUB. I recently sat down with them to get a first-hand glimpse of what the HUB offers and what it’s potential closing would mean to those who use their services. I was surprised, heartbroken, and moved by their story, that they have experienced so much suffering already in their short lives. I was also inspired by what they have accomplished in the short time since being involved with the HUB.
Before I even began, Taylor said, “I would rather people hear our story or come here and see who we are instead of just reading about us as if we were just another statistic. We’re real people who just need a leg up.” So here is my promise to Nick and Taylor that I would tell their story.
Nick has been homeless since he was 14. Since his early teens, he has struggled with addiction, quit school, and bounced around between living on the street, sleeping on friends’ couches, or living in homeless shelters. He rarely kept a job longer than 2 weeks, and mostly found work as a “carnie” traveling around with the carnival. Stability is not something he has ever had in his life. Between the instability, his addiction and gypsy lifestyle, mental health issues soon started to take over.
“You become institutionalized living in homeless shelters. Everything is done for you, they feed you, do your laundry. You don’t learn to survive on your own. I was surprised when I came to the HUB and they told me I had to do my own laundry and help cook. Here, they teach you life skills and provide resources so that you can learn to survive on your own,” Nick explained.
After months of couch surfing across the country, Nick and Taylor made a stop in Sarnia last June to stay with Taylor’s grandmother. Originally from PEI, they arrived with only their car and personal belongings. While here, she saw a sign for a tie-dye night at the HUB. “You are very isolated when you live in poverty. There isn’t much you can afford to do, so when I saw a sign for a free tie-dye night, I thought it would be a great social night out. I had no idea that the HUB was anything more.”
Once there, they realized they had stumbled onto the jackpot of services and resources. Each night, anywhere from 25-35 youth can be found at the HUB helping to prepare a hot meal for the group, playing games, or doing laundry. Each night, different activities are offered, such as learning to knit, open mic, movies, or a games night; fun activities that the youth may not otherwise be exposed to.
There are often presentations about topics including healthy relationships, how to spot fake news, or suicide awareness. Various community partners are often in attendance offering services such as haircuts, help finding housing or medical care from a Nurse Practitioner. They strive to meet needs as they arise.
“The HUB has helped us get on our feet. A housing worker helped us find a place to live, an addiction counsellor helped Nick get clean and sober, and they even found us a Nurse Practitioner,” Taylor noted. Neither have had a regular health care professional in their life for years. The HUB has also provided them with winter coats and boots through donations from other agencies. They have relied on the HUB when times were tough for emergency food, a hot meal, personal hygiene products and of course the laundry facilities.
Program Coordinator, Jaylene Poirier hopes the HUB can stay open. “I’m just so super proud of how hard the youth work towards bettering themselves. I just love it when they come in all excited to tell me something good that’s happening in their lives.”
Nick emphasized that “the HUB is so much more than just resources. It’s a safe place to go where you can be yourself and be accepted without judgement. I can talk to the people here and know they understand me. There’s a real sense of community here.”
Indeed, the HUB and Rebound itself is built on the relationship model; personal connection, belonging, and a sense of community. Carrie McEachran, Executive Director, explains, “The real ‘hub’ of the HUB is the big wooden table in the kitchen. We envisioned it to become a place busy with activity and connection, from eating family-style dinners together to socializing over a board game or craft.”
Current funding for the HUB is set to expire at the end of February. Will the HUB close its doors? “Our focus right now is to secure some additional funding to keep the existing HUB doors open,” says McEachran. The church remains very supportive of the HUB’s presence and the current location is both on a major bus route and within walking distance for many of the neighbourhood youth.
I asked Nick and Taylor what it would mean to them if the HUB shut its doors. Shaking his head sadly, Nick replied, “I will miss the emotional support of those here at the HUB. I have a relationship with the people here, the other youth, the peer mentors, and the staff. The HUB is my safety net and underneath that is rock bottom. I’m not ready to have that support taken away yet.”
“Without the HUB, I would not be sober, we wouldn’t have found a place to live, have a Nurse Practitioner, or be enrolled at Lambton College.” Nick is enrolled in the CYC program and Taylor is in the DSW program. Both are excited, yet nervous to attend college, something neither ever thought was possible. But they have a dream to open a HUB back in PEI to provide the support and resources to the youth there that they never received.
“Not everyone has supportive parents and family, so where do you go for help or direction when you can’t ask your parents? You can’t show that kind of vulnerability on the street. If the doors close, someone new like me might miss the opportunity to get their life back on track the way I did.”
Taylor says she will miss the people and the social aspect as well. “People here have become friends. I learned to knit. I got a part-time job through one of the connections I made here. I learned to bake and sold some of the treats I made at the church bazaar.” Taylor’s previously untapped leadership skills and initiative helped her convince the group to bake treats to sell at the church’s bazaar. Their treats were such a hit that she is now getting special orders to continue making them to raise money for the HUB. She is also making 400 table favours for the sold-out Rebound Hearts for Youth Fundraising Gala on February 10th
The HUB is not sitting idly by waiting for funding. They are actively looking at similar agencies, such as YOU (Youth Opportunities Unlimited) in London, who use a social enterprise model to be financially sustainable.
A social enterprise is a non-profit that produces a sellable product or service to support its community programming (ie: Goodwill). But these things take time to develop and implement, and without some intermediate funding, the HUB is at risk of closing its doors to over 215 youth who currently use their resources.
The HUB is open to ALL youth aged 16-24. There is a perception and stigma attached that it is only for homeless youth or those at high-risk, but all youth are encouraged to come and hang out, join in the fun and be a part of the HUB community. McEachran clarifies, “In reality all youth is at-risk, whether you have been identified and labelled or not. All youth need to feel a personal connection with others, have a safe place to go, and have fun healthy activities to engage in.”
The HUB is located at St. Luke’s United Church at 350 Indian Road South, directly beside Rebound. It is open Monday - Friday from 3pm - 8pm and Saturdays 1pm - 9pm.
If you would like to make a donation, get involved, or have ideas for fundraising or a social enterprise, please contact The HUB at 519-491-5579 or visit their website.
A special thank you to Nick and Taylor for sharing your story.