BY JORDAN CRYDERMAN
Carrier Sekani Family Services
When the Sk’ai Zeh Yah Youth Centre opened back in November 2020, we knew it would give youth a safe place to relax, get out from the cold, or learn some new life skills; it’s up to the youth what they want out of the centre. In the short time that it has been open, the local RCMP has already noticed a positive impact on the downtown core.
“It finally provides a space for youth at risk,” says Prince George RCMP Superintendent Shaun Wright. “If they’re unemployed, or just hanging around, it gives them a place to access the resources they need and a place of their own where they can go that isn’t on the street.”
Corporal Kurt Chapman says that the Sk’ai Zeh Yah centre is giving marginalized youth a place to call their own, which is helping to reduce conflict in the downtown area.
“The age range of 15-29 fits a lot of the demographic of marginalized youth in downtown, and what we’ve found is it’s helping to mitigate conflict with business owners as far as having a place to stay. There’s another place for youth to go where they can get fed, get their clothes cleaned, a place for storage, and wrap-around services. It’s a really good solution.”
Cpl. Chapman says that this is a service that has been needed in Prince George for a long time, but now that it’s here, hope is being restored.
“Now that the word is getting out that there is a place for them, it gives young people hope. Really, this service was a long time coming.”
The RCMP sees the Sk’ai Zeh Yah Youth Centre as a major ally in the area, and has been helping in not only spreading the word, but giving youth a ride to the centre.
“Obviously, in the beginning, because we’re police officers and we have the enforcement role, there’s trust issues, but what has happened is that we’ve broken down those barriers…. We gladly give them a ride.”
“I think the workers there, they really make sure that people are in a good frame of mind and a good head space before they head out again. They have extensive experience in dealing with youth.”
As Supt. Wright says, the RCMP recognizes that this is much more than a youth drop-in centre.
“I would say the programs that teach the life skills are really critical for any sort of change. Otherwise just having a drop-in centre where they’re off the streets and that conflict is mitigated… you’re treating the symptom but you’re not really dealing with the underlying problem. You’re helping young adults to maybe get out of the situation that brought them downtown in the first place. I think that’s a key aspect to it, very happy to see that.”
Supt. Wright says areas where people gather downtown can become a problem from a policing perspective, but because of how the Sk’ai Zeh Yah Centre is managed, the RCMP haven’t had any of those problems.
“I haven’t seen issues at all here. I think that speaks very positively towards the way the centre is being managed. It’s really been a positive partner in the community. Not solely focused on a narrow mandate, but really trying to help young marginalized people and be a positive influence on the area.”
In the coming months, the Sk’ai Zeh Yah Centre will be looking to extend its hours into the later evening, as well as weekends.