This is how one police officer bluntly described the youth crowd that had been hanging around the Mill Woods library and transit centre. While I might have a different outlook on the situation, I am not there every single day dealing with the constant frustration that the police, library staff, and transit staff deal with.
Over the past year or so the stories coming from that neighbourhood have been increasingly concerning. We have heard stories spreading from our students at our youth centre, FOUNDATION, about the altercations and general negativity that seemed to loom over that area. The library is located in central Mill Woods and our youth centre is on the very far north end of Mill Woods. Although Mill Woods is a “community” of Edmonton, it is comprised of well over 100,000 people.
The stories go something like this. Large groups of young teenagers assaulting individuals; drugs like Xanax being sold on a regular basis; weapons being used in fights; racial slurs; seniors being verbally assaulted; the library staff being verbally assaulted. This is coming from a library!
As disheartening as some of this might seem, we at Youth Unlimited always see opportunity in dark places. We believe in the hope and potential of every young person. Even those who might be castoffs by the rest of society. There is always a reason why young people act out in the ways they do.
Some of us from FOUNDATION were recently invited by the Library and some other groups that had a vested interest in the situation for a meeting. The part that excited me was that they had heard of our reputation in working with at-risk youth, and we came highly recommended as a team who may be able to have insight into helping.
After a sit-down with someone in leadership, it became increasingly clear that this was an issue that would take time. I don’t know where our role is even in this. I don’t know where our capacity is to offer help. We will always gravitate to the broken and hurting. Whenever you go out of your way to reach broken people, it will always get messy. Pray for us as we seek wisdom with what to do in this situation. Overall we want to be great neighbours and contributors to the well-being of our neighbourhood. We want young people to feel like they have safe places to go to. We want the rest of the members in our community to feel like they can access public spaces and not feel threatened. We want these youth to thrive and be given purpose beyond the downward spiral that they seem to have been caught up in. We want to be true to the great commandment and the great commission.
Pray for us.