It's sad but true that many of us walk by street kids and intentionally cast our eyes elsewhere. It's easier to be oblivious than care, or care to understand why they're on the streets at all. Sure their piercings and tattoos might seem overboard. Sure some of them are somewhere between a little scruffy and a lot; maybe a few days between showers, or washing their clothes.
There's no question some of these kids have substance abuse issues, most likely tied to having been abused in some manner mentally, physically, and sexually. They're simply trying to survive, trying to deal with being homeless, disenfranchised, and marginalized. Only a few degrees separate them from being mine or yours.
Thankfully some of Vancouver's street youth are not oblivious in the eyes of Colin Ford. From very simple beginnings, with a few guitars and a willingness not to judge, Ford is delivering a program that listens, mentors, and teaches. Run by Family Services of Greater Vancouver Ford is the program co-ordinator for The Directions Youth Services media room.
With support from Electronics Arts this program provides access to the media arts and helping young people find the voice many never realized was inside them. With this media room, Ford and the staff teach music, art, audio recording, film-making, computer literacy, digital media skills and teamwork.
Through this program and access to creative tools, they provide an opportunity for social inclusion and creative expression where it might not have existed before. It builds relationships with the community, skills and knowledge that lead to greater stability, health, educational opportunities and employment.
This is proving to be a real pathway off the streets and out of the life of being homeless. They have alumni that have attended numerous post-secondary programs including Vancouver Film School and Vancouver Community College.
This past December, the participants performed and displayed their artwork at Cafe Deux Soleils. It was called Slice Night. For many of the youth, it was their first time performing in front of the public.
Another Slice chronicles the program's development. It's an outlet for street youth to share their art, thoughts and feelings. Another Slice is conceived, facilitated and developed out of Directions Youth Services. The purpose of this "zine" is to provide street youth with a venue for self-expression. Shift from being oblivious, and take a minute to read, listen and watch. There is real talent on display and the end results are captivating, enlightening, and impressive.
Here are a couple more examples of the outstanding work from this program:
Launched in 2009 InOurShoes.ca educates people about the ongoing challenges that homeless youth face living on the street.
More recently with support from UBC, Another Slice University was launched. This is a series of short films about street life, and seeks to end prejudice towards homeless youth. Each film was written and produced by youth and distributed on iTunes University -- connecting them with universities around the world and anyone who uses iTunes.
While public funding helps keep this program running, private support will make an ongoing difference. You can get involved by contributing new hardware, software, or anything involved with creating the digital media experience. Homeless youth have their stories. Homeless they might be, but hopeless they're not, and thankfully the creative and safe haven provided by Ford and the team at Directions Youth Services media room gives them hope for a better tomorrow.
Follow John F. Gray on Twitter: www.twitter.com/grayspective