Chance to Choose program in Port Moody to close its doors

Cuts to funding and rising costs have prompted the closure of an employment skills program for at-risk youth.

Chance to Choose coordinator Evelyn Humphreys confirmed this week that the program which has taught youth aged 15 to 35 about the job market for five years will shut down March 27.

Humphreys said the date was chosen to give the program's Port Moody landlord adequate notice, explaining that the program has faced funding problems before and was even closed briefly because funding arrived late. What's different this time, she said, is the combination of a funding cut and higher wages for the youth who get paid minimum wage while taking the program.

"We have 38 participants at $10.25 an hour instead of $8 an hour and that's a huge difference," said Humphreys, who explained that Service Canada funding was cut to $412,000 this year from $432,000 last year.

While staff cuts could have been made to keep the program running, Humphreys said doing so would have severely restricted the program geared to high-risk, vulnerable youth.

Thomas Tam, CEO of SUCCESS which operates the program for Service Canada, confirmed the funding was reduced to keep costs in line with other youth employment programs. However, he noted that, unlike other programs geared to youth, Chance to Choose worked with young people with multiple barriers to employment and needed higher staff ratios.

"They (Service Canada) think our unit costs are more expensive than other similar projects. They put a critical challenge on the safety and quality of the program," he said, adding that the program would be missed because the youth do community projects as part of their job training and because there are few programs serving youth in the Tri-Cities.

The closure announcement comes just a month after Chance to Choose held a reunion for some of its 300 graduates, which drew politicians from all levels of government. On Wednesday, the News published a story about a successful graduate, a former drug addict, who is now employed as a child care worker.

Humphreys said she appealed to municipal and provincial governments to help out with supports, such as free rent, but nothing could be arranged in time.

"What makes me angry is nobody is paying attention to the savings," Humphreys said, noting that her program which provides job skills training, as well as First Aid, SuperHost and Food Safe training, costs $12,000 per young person.

Those that graduate from Chance to Choose go on to complete their schooling or find jobs, she said. Without these kinds of intense programs, she said, youth could end up in the justice system, which costs $300 a day.

Service Canada was making arrangements to contact The News regarding funding, but hadn't come up with the details by Thursday morning.

More to come

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