The community initiative connecting young Manitobans with mental health care

A community-based initiative is connecting young Manitobans with mental health care and other supports — all under the same roof.

It’s called Huddle, a self-described ‘one-stop shop’ for youth needing help, care, or just a place to hang out.

Six Huddle sites opened in the province last May, including one on Broadway near the Manitoba Legislative Building.

“I was in a really rough spot in my life last year,” Natasha, a Huddle Broadway participant, told CTV News Winnipeg.

Natasha started visiting Huddle Broadway in September and stops by most weekdays. She’s one of nearly 3,000 youth who have attended Huddle Broadway since it’s opening.

“I feel safe here. I feel comfortable,” Natasha said. “I can be myself. I can make friends, which I absolutely love.”

Huddle is a collaboration between the province, United Way, and several 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 services’ model, offering wrap-around support for youth in the same building.

“We heard from youth they didn’t want to go from place to place and be on waiting lists and talk to many people and tell their stories over and over,” said Stephanie Skakun, Manitoba’s senior operations and programs director for the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“It’s a totally different approach,” Skakun said.

Aside from mental health services, Huddle sites offer addictions counselling, primary physical care, peer support, and access to social services like employment and housing.

“Huddle is a place where youth can come and they can get a number of needs met, which has a direct impact on their mental health,” said Stephanie Ens, clinical service director for Huddle’s backbone team.

“They’re going to get the help that they need and the help that they’re ready for.”

Huddle also acts as a drop-in centre where youth can charge their phones, finish homework, grab a snack, or participate in activities.

“But as time goes on, often what we see as relationships build and trust builds, 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 transformative.

“I feel like it’s helped me a lot with trying to build more structure in my life,” Hayden told CTV News Winnipeg.

He said Huddle’s immediate, barrier-free, and culturally-rooted approach is what young Manitobans are looking for.

“Sometimes life just kind of happens and you can schedule appointments, which is ideal if you can,” he explained. “But sometimes it just comes at 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, working with what I need,” Natasha said.

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