September 8, 2017 7:10 pm

AJOI celebrates 10 years, but West Island youth still in need

WATCH ABOVE: AJOI, a community group in Montreal’s West Island that supports youth and families living in poverty, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Global's Phil Carpenter reports.

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Mardoche Mertilus thinks he’s very lucky to be an outreach worker today.

“I did a lot of … little stuff that we can say that were not really nice,” Mertilus said.

As a teenager, drug and alcohol abuse were common in his Cartiverville neighbourhood, and he was headed for trouble.

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“Being around gang members and stuff like that,” he explains. “Those are the little bit of trouble that I put myself into.”

But before things got really bad, he met two outreach workers and that led to a relationship that helped get him off the streets

Now, he works at a West Island youth outreach called AJOI — Action Jeunesse de l’ouest-de-l’île.

They provide support for at-risk youth aged 12 to 25 years old.

It’s the centre’s 10th anniversary, and Mertilus has been involved for eight of those years. In that time, he has learned just how serious things are for West Island youth.

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“There’s drugs, there’s prostitution, we’re talking about homelessness, mental health,” he says.

The worst, he says, is homelessness and it’s only getting worse.

“Right now AJOI is at a rate of two calls (about homeless youth) per week. We’re getting these calls so often, we don’t know what to do.”

He thinks the West Island desperately needs a homeless shelter. There are so few places to bring homeless youth that AJOI is taking them as far away as Valleyfield. He also says people need to support youth, spend time with them and support them

Joy Akl, an Outreach Worker at AJOI agrees. She says youth are looking for just one thing.

“That you’re not gonna judge them,” she said. “You gonna take really the time to know them instead of judging them on what they do.”

That’s what worked for Mertilus, and he’s hoping that in the next ten years things will change for the better because it’s very easy to lose kids to the streets.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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