Youth outreach at Coquitlam Centre as Evergreen arrives

The opening of the Evergreen Extension Dec. 2 is likely to bring an increase in youth to Coquitlam Centre

The opening of the Evergreen Extension Dec. 2 is expected to bring more young people to Coquitlam Centre, prompting the mall and Access Youth Outreach Services to partner in a program to engage and support them.

Last Thursday and Friday, an outreach worker wearing a purple hoodie with an Access logo met up with about 30 youth to let them know about the program and services that might be available to them.

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"We hope to not have any issues, we want to be able to have a presence as a preventative measure as opposed to waiting until something happens," said Jerome Bouvier, Access' executive director.

It's a partnership that Coquitlam Centre marketing director Deborah Stetz said she believes will ensure the mall is a safe place for youth.

"We just saw this as a tremendous opportunity to add another resource for youth and their families," Stetz told The Tri-City News.

Bouvier said the mall, which has the Lincoln Station in its northeast parking lot, will likely become a social hub for youth from the Tri-Cities and Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge looking to shop and meet their friends or to head further along the SkyTrain line to Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey or Vancouver.

Bouvier said he doesn't know how many more youths will visit the mall via SkyTrain but it made sense to have a presence.

Access Youth Outreach Services has long operated a bus outreach service that connects with youth where they congregate and this is an expansion of the program. The outreach worker will have an office at Coquitlam Centre and Bouvier said he expects that person will walk the mall and introduce themselves to youth, liaise with security and store owners, and go outdoors to the Lincoln and Coquitlam Central Evergreen stations to engage with young people.

Eventually, Access would like to have an outreach worker who rides the Evergreen Extension in the evening to connect with youth who may be vulnerable and need help.

But for now, Access is offering its services at the mall between 4 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday and Fridays.

"Kids' families who come into the mall know there's more supports, it's a more inviting place to shop and spend your time and enjoy the mall," Bouvier said. "We also have information we can hand out, drug information, sexual health information, resources, even knowledge about our own programs."

It is far too early to say what kind of issues may arise with the opening of the Evergreen Extension — indeed, a 2014 report for TransLink's Transit Police predicted there would be no increase of crime along the route because it runs through existing hubs.

Still, Bouvier said his organization is working with the transit police and Coquitlam RCMP to make sure they are aware of potential issues involving youth, especially vulnerable kids. Grants from the Calgary Foundation and Phoenix Truck and Crane are funding the six-month pilot and, if it's successful, Bouvier said, Access will seek additional funding.

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