'I'd be on the street': How a program is giving at-risk young men new skills and a place to live
February 24, 2017 at 2:02 PM
The first group of men to take part in a program that helps them not only to get off the streets, but also to learn a construction trade, will celebrate a milestone Friday.
The six members of the Jolt Program, who have been working on a low-rise condo building at Queen Street East just near Pape Avenue in Leslieville, will be part of a "topping off" ceremony — a builders' rite that traditionally celebrates the last block put into place during a building's construction.
And for Shyham Kozmick, 21, that block in a wall on the top floor of this condo is far from where he was not long ago.
"Without this program I would probably still be living on the street, or worse. This helped my life, a lot," Kozmick told CBC Toronto.
And not only is Kozmick learning a trade, he and his fellow participants will also get a chance to actually buy the condo units they're working on.
Like most of the participants, he ended up at Eva's Phoenix emergency shelter for homeless youth between the ages of 16 and 24.
The shelter runs programs that help youths find permanent housing, graduate high school and get job training.
The Jolt Program is run by Canadian National Shelter Program (CNSP), a non-profit organization that trains at-risk youth in trades to help break the cycle of poverty.
Patrick Casey, CNSP's executive director, says he fosters a more patient and understanding environment than the typical apprenticeship program.
"Obviously, high at-risk youth, street youth, aren't necessarily going to have the employment skills, such as showing up on time regularly and consistently," he said.
Good work habits are just as important as the skills they learn, Casey said. CNSP's apprenticeship carpentry program is done in partnership with the Carpenter's Union Local 27 and the Canadian Centre for Cold Climate Construction Training and Research (5CTR).
At the end of the two-year program, the Jolt Program participants can come out with their certification and membership in the Carpentry Union.
Devon Coward, 27, who says he's used to the odds being stacked against him, realizes it's a big break. A few years ago, his mother suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed.
Coward says it's a good feeling to know "I can help her put food on the table. I know I can provide, and I know what I can help build here."
And beyond learning an in-demand skilled trade, participants also can get assistance to buy the actual units that they are working on from Options For Homes, a non-profit organization that helps prospective homeowners with down payment support and credit for "sweat equity."
Michel Labbé, Director General and CEO of Options International -- who founded Options for Homes more than two decades ago -- says those in the program are only paying for the cost of construction.
He said the difference in value — including what's typically the builder's profit — is put back onto the down payment.
"But you can't get into home ownership unless you have a job. So we put the two pieces together here. We have a training program and once you have a job then you can get a mortgage," Labbé said.
For Dwight Langille, 26, the program will be a life-changer.
"I always wanted to do construction. I love the feeling of being able to build stuff from the ground up," he said. "I knew I had to be hands on. I'm not an in-the-classroom kind of guy."
Langille was taken in by Children's Aid when he was five and became a ward of the state.
He is one of four of the participants who could be moving into the building they're working on when it's completed in May. It will his first stable home in a long time.
"I was moving every year at least once a year. This is the longest I've been in a place and I'm leaving, but it's for a good thing," he said, adding the condo and a job in a trade will provide needed stability for him and his two-year old son.