Knevada Osborne struggled with drug addiction and was in and out of nearly 50 foster homes as a youth before he aged out of care.
Chanse Downes lived with a few foster families too growing up, but recently experienced homelessness.
On Thursday, the two could be found hard at work — Osborne, 19, working a nail gun and Downes, 21, using an earth compactor on the site of a new Singh Street affordable housing complex they’re helping construct.
The project will be a home for youth — like Osborne and Downes — who’ve moved through the provincial child welfare system.
Lii Michif Otipemisiwak (LMO) is building the 31-unit Kikekyelc project in Brocklehurst as a place of belonging for First Nations elders and younger residents — ages 16 to 27 — of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background.
The $4.7-million housing complex — known officially as Kikekyelc: A Place of Belonging — is expected to be operational by June.
Ground broke on the project in July and, to this point, the wood frame of the building has been erected, thanks in part to the efforts of former youth in care like Osborne and Downes.
The workers were hired by LMO to toil alongside contractors thanks to a $40,000 grant from the Royal Bank of Canada paying their wages.
Osborne said he was in and out of foster care from the age of five until he aged out of the system in 2018.
“It was a rough experience with MCFD [Ministry of Child and Family Development],” he said, noting some homes were good but at others he didn’t feel like he belonged.
Osborne described the building as inspirational. He said it is a great opportunity for the youth to connect with elders and have a place to go when they inevitably age out of ministry care.
He said when he aged out of care he was homeless until his boss took him in.
Seanna Proulx, LMO manager of Indigenous youth and housing, said there have been about 10 different people who have gone through the foster care system hired on by the agency to work construction of the site.
Some of them are currently homeless, she said.
“They’re working at the construction site and they’re getting up even though they live in a tent and going to that site and doing the work and they’re going to have a roof over their heads when it’s done,” Proulx said.
Downes said LMO told him about the opportunity to work on Kikekyelc last summer when he was at the office one day. He told them he’d be interested.
He said he didn’t have a job and was living in a homeless shelter at the time.
Downes didn’t have much experience in construction before landing the gig and said he views it as a great opportunity to learn.
“It definitely helps keep me busy,” he said, adding that building something that’s a benefit to youth who have been in his situation gives him a lot of pride in his work.
Proulx said LMO wanted to offer work experience to some of its youth and selected contractors Casman Construction and D&T Developments, in part, to enable that partnership.
“We want our youth to be involved in everything we do here,” Proulx said.
The opportunity enabled Osborne to secure full-time work.
He was connected with LMO through his girlfriend, having most recently worked as a roofer in Chilliwack.
While on the job, Osborne said he has taken the initiative to inquire about full-time work with Casman Construction and he got hired within three days of submitting his resume.
The youth workers are supervised by LMO’s crew supervisor Philip Shupe, who lauded his crew for their dedication to the project.
Shupe said people like Downes have been on the job since Day 1.
Downes said the work has been a great opportunity for him, noting it’s nice to see the project come together from start to finish.
Proulx said youth workers who apply to live in Kikekyelc will likely have space in the project once it’s completed, noting she’s heard of five who will be applying.
Proulx said the work experience will be a great addition to the youths’ resumes and could enable them to develop valuable connections in the trades.