A trio of North End youth is petitioning for a 24-hour drop-in centre to help curb the number of kids roaming the streets at night and getting involved in gangs.
For the last week and a half, Romondo Nilles has collected more than 700 signatures in support of a centre Nilles says would offer a more safe and positive environment for youth avoiding the challenges they face at home.
"Kids in the area need a sense of belonging, somewhere they feel wanted, somewhere they feel safe, important, wanted, and loved," said Nilles, 21.
Many youth in the area have broken families, and often avoid going home at night to avoid alcoholism and abusive relationships, Nilles said. This makes them easy targets for gang recruitment, he said.
Nilles has seen kids as young as 14 patrolling the streets late at night on their bikes, often working as runners or lookouts for older gang members.
"I used to be like that, and I wanted to do something about this," he said.
Nilles envisions a space — a location that hasn’t been determined — open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, where kids have a chance to take part in programming and connect with elders and counsellors. He plans to use the petition to show area politicians the community wants the facility.
"We’re not trying to take kids away from their parents. We just want them to have a safe place to go," he said.
"There are just small ideas. We’re not acting on them right away, we just want support."
Fourteen-year-old Holden Lynxleg was one of the first to sign the petition along with 13-year-old Marianna Lathlin. Both were helping Nilles collect signatures along Pritchard Avenue last Wednesday.
Lynxleg said the gang mentality is driven into youth hard — 12 year olds aren’t afraid to wear and flash their colours, and ask someone what gang they belong to.
"People like to act tough," he said.
"It’s not safe around here at night."
Division 13 Inspector Cam Baldwin, who signed the petition, said he likes the concept. A lack of programming and resources for kids in the late evening hours helps lead them astray.
"They don’t have any connection to anything," Baldwin said.
"Their family becomes who they hang out on the street (with)."
Baldwin said he’s encouraged by the support Nilles and his friends have received so far.
"I do like the fact there is a lot of youth and energy there working on it," he said.
"We’ll see how far they get with it."
Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie says a 24-hour centre could have helped prevent a 14-year-old boy from being shot in October 2011.
According to media reports at the time, the boy suffered serious spine injuries after getting into an argument over gang affiliations with a rival gang member near Selkirk Avenue and Salter Street.
"He was being pushed into getting into that life," said Eadie.
"If that young kid knew he would be getting pressured, if he had a place to go, he wouldn’t have been shot."
There have been many conversations about setting up a 24-hour centre in the North End, but Eadie admits a centre would be complex to establish.
"It won’t be just the city that solves this," said Eadie.
"It’s going to have to take the province as well."
For more, visit http://www.ayomovement.com/keep-our-youth-safe-247.html.