I was disappointed when I heard the news that Empire House, the youth shelter in Bridgewater, was closing. I am disturbed by the growing trend of shutting down (or replacing, rather than replenishing) much-needed services in the rural regions of the province where they are essential for promoting and maintaining cohesion within communities. Empire House will be replaced by a more innovative program, but switching programs is not a way of building a solid social net of care and strengthening the integrity of the community. Now with Empire House down, where will a youth go? Instead of hitching a ride to Bridgewater...end up in Halifax, possibly...Montreal from there, maybe?
What happens in a small region when all services begin shutting down? Who wants to live in an area with very sparse services? Who wants to live in a socially unhealthy region with huge pockets of marginalization? Cutting services is counter-effective and cancels out any retention rebate schemes. Skilled workers who contribute greatly to the tax base, who are born and raised in Nova Scotia, who have paid considerable amounts of tax and who support the local economy of the province, have left and will continue to leave.
As a worker, I feel great sorrow and confusion as to why the general public is not stepping up and investing in the children of rural Nova Scotia. Slowly, communities in the rural areas across the province are eroding and there does not seem to be an aggressive action plan or urgent outcry from the public to address this. Fostering social health in our communities and the revitalizing of the counties is not achieved by using relocation/migration into the HRM as a solution.
It is not lack of resources, low pay, caustic work environments or being forced to wear many hats that drives qualified workers away. It is simply the deep-seated inaction and resignation that a worker sees in the general public. It is the frustration that people are not fighting for much needed services (like high-quality, innovative public schools, and youth and family resources) geared to support rural families and rural regions. It is also frustrating to see taxpayers not holding the existing agencies accountable for the quality care (or lack of it).
Some non-profit organizations have been around for decades but do not have a track record for providing quality care. Why are service providers not being held accountable for their poor outcomes? Some are failing miserably. Some HRM agencies are servicing rural youth. Why is this occurring? What are the long-term consequences of this?
Professionals and advocates can only do so much. We need the help of the taxpayer, the voter, community members who see that healthy neighbourhoods and healthy children are possible whether they are in the most remote regions or urban areas of Nova Scotia. Children should not have to be relocated and removed from their unique communities and families to receive basic care and support.
A sense of community engagement, cultural and citizenship identities, I believe, are rooted in a very strong sense of being valued. When the province invests in Nova Scotian youth and rural communities, it is sending the implicit message that rural youth are valuable enough to be the province's investment. It sends a message that our youth investment trumps the latest condo development deal. Our youth should not be getting their best quality public education and recreational activity at Wood Street Centre and Waterville Jail. Our rural communities' future vitality, their future existence, depends on the investment we make caring for all children of this province.
The public has a civic responsibility to hold service providers and city councillors accountable for the public funding. When Nova Scotians are not investing in our youth or even caring to monitor existing services and programs, the message reflected to marginalized rural families is: we realize you're struggling, but you're on your own.
Maureen Maynes has worked as a frontline and outreach worker in the areas of chronic homelessness, street crisis counseling, poverty, addiction and marginalized youth. She has a degree in social work from Dalhousie University.