VIU Alum Helps Start Mobile Youth Outreach Team to Support Homeless Youth

Ruby Barclay, VIU Child and Youth Care alum

Ruby Barclay (middle), Coordinator of the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre’s Youth Advisory Council, is a member of the Mobile Youth Outreach Team, a no-barrier service for youth aged 12-29 who are experiencing homelessness in Nanaimo. With her from left to right: Delaney Gunn, Youth Literacy Coordinator with Literacy Central Vancouver Island, and Cadence and Joey, two youth leaders with the Nanaimo Youth Advisory Council.

July 10, 2020 - 2:15pm

Ruby Barclay, a Child and Youth Care alum and coordinator of the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre’s Youth Advisory Council, is part of an initiative that aims to support and learn more about youth living on the streets of Nanaimo.

“I am the example of what survival is really about on this planet.”

To Ruby Barclay, Coordinator of the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre’s Youth Advisory Council, this quote shows the resiliency of the homeless youth community that members of her council have been connecting with for many weeks now through the Mobile Youth Outreach Team.

Every Wednesday, Barclay and members of the advisory council go to Wesley Street to hand out free personal hygiene products, food, harm reduction supplies and basic survival gear such as tents and warm sleeping bags. 

“We made 141 connections in the first five weeks, in 10 hours of engagement, in one location,” she says. “The reason this initiative has been so successful is because we have youth who have experienced homelessness at the center of it. The youth feel comfortable talking to us. They see lots of people who criminalize and racialize them. They feel like we understand and actually care.”

Donations for Mobile Youth Outreach Team

The idea for the Mobile Youth Outreach Team began with a conversation that Barclay, a Vancouver Island University (VIU) Child and Youth Care alum, had with members of the Nanaimo Youth Advisory Council about what they can do to bring awareness to the issue of the city’s youth who are homeless or in precarious living situations. The council, established in 2017, is made up of a dozen youth who are currently in government care. Its mission is to provide peer support, advocate for systemic change and work towards sustainable programming for youth. 

The youth council has been involved in various forms of advocacy since its inception, including presenting to Nanaimo City Council last summer about the issue of youth homelessness and what can be done to better support this demographic. One of the youth suggested they start their own initiative to show how to support youth experiencing homelessness.

The Mobile Youth Outreach Team, a no-barrier service for youth up to age 29, is delivered in partnership with Literacy Central Vancouver Island with initial funding from the Nanaimo Community Action Team. Between two dozen and three dozen youth show up every week to receive support.

“There’s a downtown core of homelessness in Nanaimo that is now more visible than ever because the homeless population has nowhere to stay home during COVID-19,” says Barclay. “When we asked the youth why this was important, they responded with, ‘Because these people are humans. These people are our neighbours. Our community members. Our relatives. They deserve support too.’”

The experience of many of these youth during the height of the pandemic has been a world of public bathrooms that are closed, reducing their bathroom and drinking water options; and clinics, storefronts and community drop-in centres they normally relied upon shut their doors, offering services by phone or email. 

As the team develops relationships with youth, they are also gathering data that can help the community gain insight into the needs of this particular population and identify service gaps as well as learn about the experiences that led them to be homeless in the first place. Many of the youth have lived in Nanaimo for a year or more. A lot of them graduated from the local public-school system, played on local sports teams, and applied or went to university at some point, including VIU.

Barclay and the youth council hope the Mobile Outreach Team receives full funding from the city to continue their work. Their ultimate goal is to have a permanent, 24-hour drop-in centre dedicated to supporting homeless youth.

If people wish to make a donation to support the team’s work, Barclay and Delaney Gunn, Literacy Central Vancouver Island’s Youth Literacy Coordinator, are personally accepting donations, including gently used or new items (backpacks, shoes, blankets, clothing, sleeping bags, tarps, tents, survival gear) and/or funds, and 100% of donations go to supporting the youth. To make a donation or for more information please email or




Jenn McGarrigle, External Communications Advisor, Vancouver Island University

C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews

Tags: Child and Youth Care | Community Engagement | Our Alumni

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