APTN National News
It’s been four hours since classes got out at the Dennis Franklin Cromarty (DFC) school in Thunder Bay but for school support workers Steve Johnson, and Alison Taylor, work is just beginning.
“I find myself even when I’m not working I’m still looking,” Taylor said.
Taylor and Johnson are part of an on-call team whose job it is to monitor the whereabouts of roughly 70 students from DFC, the First Nations school in Thunder Bay.
“Usually around 5 o’clock is when we head out,” said Johnson. “Go check our spots. Check Waterstreet Terminal, city hall, intercity. Spots where they’ve been known to hang out.”
During the day, these spots in the city are nothing more than scenic venues – but at night, they pose a threat for many First Nations teens.
Every year dozens of youth from remote First Nation communities leave home in northwestern Ontario to go to high school in Thunder Bay.
Most make the trip alone.
It can be a lonely existence – even deadly.
In the past 17 years, 11 First Nations youth have died near parks, and rivers in the city.
The on call program started in 2000 with the hopes of keeping students safe.
For support workers, the job doesn’t come without stress.
“The odd time we’ll find somebody intoxicated either alcohol or drugs,” said Johnson. “We’ll bring them back to school here and call our emergency on-call supervisor and sit here until we feel that they are sober enough to go home without having an issue.”
Students do have a curfew.
Once 10 p.m hits, workers start making house calls.
The worst nights are when a student doesn’t make it home.
“If they’re out past curfew, not home, nobody knows where they are it’s kind of hard,” said Taylor.
The job isn’t always stressful.
On most nights, workers give students a space to take a break from the city.
“It’s different when they get in the van with us because they can be themselves, they don’t have to carry themselves a certain way,” said Johnson.
Taylor said getting to know the students has been the biggest reward.
“Connecting with everybody I think. Being a community, helping each other out.”
As the city continues to come under fire over safety concerns, Johnson hopes others realize the youth do have people to turn to.
“People should know that we are out there trying to keep track of our youth and keep care of our students and make sure they’re safe,” he said.
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