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Health care evolves at downtown youth service

Two young people play pool, another makes a cup of coffee, and a young woman weaves a friend’s hair into intricate braids. Not the typical waiting room of a medical clinic.

This is Evolve, a health and social support initiative run by and for young people who live outside the mainstream. Evolve is located down narrow Eva Street in the Wellington central business district, and many of its clients are street kids or young people who have dropped out of school.

Evolve is open for at least five hours a day, Monday to Friday. A registered nurse is on hand four days a week, and on Mondays and Wednesdays there are GP clinics. In the evenings Evolve is used for other activities such as a practice for its multi-cultural kapa haka group.

Simone Piatti is Evolve’s service manager. Simone says the service was launched a year ago after a group of young people lobbied the Ministry of Health for three years.

“We provide a hangout space where young people can play pool, have a cup of tea or coffee, and feel relaxed. Once they are comfortable they will see the nurse if they require treatment.

“Often the issue is sexual health. Consultations are free and prescriptions cost $3, so young people can afford to visit. The services are confidential. Some of our patients have family doctors but they are likely to visit us if the issue is sexual health,” Simone says.

To date 708 young people are registered with the clinic, which is mainly funded by the Ministry of Health, and Capital Coast DHB and supported by SEC PHO, a Wellington primary health organisation.

A vital element in the success of Evolve is the 11 youth support workers. These young people work part-time as the service’s front line staff. They greet newcomers, show them around, and register people to use the clinic.

Simone says the youth support workers are a multi-cultural bunch and come from seven different ethnic groups. Along with Maori, Pacific Islanders and Pakeha, they include an Assyrian and three Africans.

“We interviewed 150 young people and hired 12. Their confidence and capability has grown immensely over the past year.

“Three of the original team have moved on and we recently employed a support worker who is a former client. She got in trouble with the police and had to do community service so she applied to do it here. We gradually increased her responsibilities, and she did so well that eventually we hired here.”

Yordanos is one of Evolve’s youth support workers. She says they keep the atmosphere casual, use slang, and are “professional in a cool way”.

A refugee from Ethiopia, Yordanos says Evolve is one of the few facilities in Wellington to cater for African youth. She has helped organise an African night at Evolve where young people can discuss issues they face here and the situation in Africa.

Evolve’s youth support workers receive on-going in training in such topics as facilitation, sexual health, cultural awareness, legal rights, and dealing with difficult situations.

The staff of Evolve realised many of the young people who use the clinic face complex personal issues in addition to their physical health. Because they are not qualified to provide the counselling and social work services, they have approached Wesley Community Action.

Wesley Community Action community services manager Robyn Pope says through a partnership with the SEC PHO Wesley was approached to provide the social work component of this service.