A community initiative connects young Manitobans with mental health and other support – all under the same roof.
It’s called Huddle, a self-proclaimed ‘one-stop-shop’ for young people who need help, care or just a place to hang out.
Six Huddle locations opened in the province last May, including one on Broadway near the Manitoba Legislative Building.
“I was in a really tough place in my life last year,” Natasha, a Huddle Broadway contestant, told CTV News Winnipeg.
Natasha started visiting Huddle Broadway in September and drops by most weekdays. She is one of nearly 3,000 young people who have visited Huddle Broadway since it opened.
“I feel safe here. I feel comfortable,” said Natasha. “I can be myself. I can make friends, which I absolutely adore.
Huddle is a collaboration between the county, United Way, and various philanthropic partners. Other locations are on Main Street, St. Mary’s Road and Notre Dame Avenue. There are also hubs in Brandon and Selkirk.
Huddle follows an ‘integrated youth care’ model, providing comprehensive support for young people in the same building.
“We heard from young people that they didn’t want to move from place to place and be on waiting lists and talk to lots of people and tell their stories over and over again,” said Stephanie Skakun, Manitoba’s senior operations and program director for the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“It’s a totally different approach,” Skakun said.
Aside from mental health services, Huddle sites offer addiction counseling, primary physical care, peer support, and access to social services such as employment and housing.
“Huddle is a place where young people can come and meet a range of needs that have a direct impact on their mental health,” said Stephanie Ens, director of clinical service for Huddle’s backbone team.
“They get the help they need and the help they’re ready for.”
Huddle also acts as a drop-in center where young people can charge their phones, do homework, grab a snack or participate in activities.
“But as time goes on, we often see what we see as relationship building and trust building, we see young people connecting with staff and connecting with different programs,” Skakun said.
Huddle’s programs are designed by youth, including Hayden, who sits on an advisory board and helps plan events, courses and other aspects of Huddle.
Hayden said the support he’s received himself has been profound.
“I feel like it’s helped me a lot in trying to build more structure in my life,” Hayden told CTV News Winnipeg.
He said Huddle’s direct, barrier-free and culturally rooted approach is what young Manitobans are looking for.
“Sometimes life just happens and you can schedule appointments, which is ideal if you can,” he explained. “But sometimes it just comes to you.”
For Natasha, Huddle has given her a sense of empowerment and belonging.
“I’ve gotten a good reminder of the things I’m capable of when people are willing to work with me, work with what I need,” Natasha said.