There's a major development with Camp DARE that could see the South River-area facility turned into a site to address mental health issues facing young people. Camp DARE, which is short for Development Through Adventure, Responsibility and Education, is a detention facility for young men and is scheduled to close April 30 along with about two dozen similar facilities the provincial government operates in Ontario. DARE is operated by Wendigo Lake Expeditions and board president Stephen Glass told the Nugget that Todd Smith, the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, wants to arrange a meeting with Glass “to engage collaboratively about mental health and addictions, child welfare and Ontario youth.” Glass says Smith's staff will call him soon to set up a date for a meeting. However, there's more to suggest the Doug Ford government may be doing a 180 regarding Camp DARE's future and the effort to keep it open in some capacity. “Much to our delight (Smith) went beyond that and asked that representatives from the ministries of Health and the Attorney General also be part of the discussions,” Glass said. And still further, Progressive Conservative Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller has called Glass explaining he's in the process of setting up a meeting between Glass and Michael Tibollo, the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Glass worked inside the provincial government at a senior level for 10 years before coming to Camp DARE Glass told the Nugget it's his past experience with the provincial government that's given him hope that DARE can be repurposed into a mental health facility for young people. Glass said it's inconceivable that a government would first announce the closure of a facility, then three weeks from that closure say it wants to hold meetings involving the facility if it has something else in mind other than closure. “Not only would it be a waste of senior bureaucrats' time, it would also be in bad faith to say we are going to organize a meeting,” Glass said, adding only to see nothing develop afterward. “When the minister uses words like 'engage collaboratively about mental health and addictions' these are not just words that come tumbling out of a minister's mouth,” Glass said. “They are very carefully debated and I am incredibly grateful that they have had this last-minute change of heart.” Glass expects the meetings to be virtual because of COVID-19 and he told Miller he expects more than one meeting to take place. “Let's have the first couple of meetings so we know what we're looking at and how long it's going to take to do the re-tooling,” Glass said. Glass says it's going to be up to government officials to tell him and Wendigo Lake Expeditions what they want, adding “we don't want to guess what the government's priorities are.” “They need to tell us what they need and we can then tell them what the services would look like,” Glass said. Glass says because the existing staff have helped young people in the past who have experienced trauma and mental health issues, the employees already have the skills to continue delivering those services. However, Glass says with April 30 looming and no chance of having Camp DARE repurposed before then, the employees will have to be laid off. Glass says a small core of people would be needed to carry out the repurposing and once that's complete, then the rehiring and ramping up of workers can begin. But Glass cautions at this time he has no idea how long the re-tooling will take and also says Camp DARE is at a stage where it's not known what the facility will be asked to do. He says in this sense what's happened is both a curse and a blessing; a curse because the government turnaround comes late in the game where the employees have to be laid off but a blessing because there's a very good chance DARE can continue and bring back workers in the future. Currently, Camp DARE has about 20 employees and the facility is equipped with 36 beds to serve its clientele. Although the number of young males at the facility has dropped off in recent years, Glass says the reason isn't because DARE changed its methods but because the government changed the rules and said it could only serve “kids sentenced to jail time.” The effort to have Camp DARE repurposed had a lot of support from municipal councils in the Almaguin Highlands region, in addition to organizational and business support. Glass says he's grateful for this outpouring of support and that the facility has a chance of continuing in some form. Glass says although it's up to the Ford government to lay out what it wants to see at the facility, Glass is planting a seed and hopes the ministers are listening. “In my dreams I would want the government to ask us to provide a mental health trauma residential treatment program with 'x' number of beds,” Glass said. “Furthermore, we could collaborate with Sick Kids Hospital and agencies like the Children’s Aid Societies across Ontario to deliver short-term programs to help them with the kids they serve. If the government gave us that kind of mandate, people would be so pleased. It would lead to expansion over the years much like how we were able to expand in the past.”
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget