Express is at risk
The clock is ticking for Midnight Express, the youth service facing an uncertain future unless funding can be found in the coming weeks.
The programme kicked off in July 2009 and has been hailed by Porirua City Council, police and local community organisations as a success story. At its peak, eight youth workers were employed, going out on Friday and Saturday nights between 10pm and 4am, checking ‘‘hot spots’’, primarily in eastern Porirua, where young people congregate and drink.
They would transport kids home if required, talk to them about social issues they might be facing, ask if they were going to school and, latterly, discussing sexual health matters.
Funded via Ministry of Youth Development (MYD) and supporting grants, it is still being administered by the council.
Youth worker and Midnight Express team leader Kim Barnden estimates they have spoken to 6000 young people on the streets of Porirua in just over two years. But the service is under a cloud, with funding from MYD no longer guaranteed as it tightens its own budgets.
Meanwhile, the council made a decision earlier this year it would no longer administer Midnight Express.
‘‘In a nutshell, we have plenty of uncertainty,’’ Ms Barnden says. The service only operates with four youth workers.
‘‘We can’t sit under [the council’s umbrella] any more so we have until October 14 to sort it out. We’re evaluating how we can continue at the moment, widening our net to look at different possibilities.’’
Ms Barnden says being independent of PCC may come as a bless- ing, as they will be able to operate ‘‘neutrally’’ from local and central government. They are talking to Porirua Healthy Safer City Trust as a potential funding source and, for now, are still ‘‘doing what we do’’ on Friday and Saturday nights.
‘‘We’re making a lot of inroads and opening doors, giving solid guidance and advice and feeding back to CYFS, regional public health and police. We still want to be able to raise issues quickly and have that unique position of being neutral.’’
Midnight Express’ nonjudgmental approach has found favour with a number of parents, including Kiri, whose 14-year-old son was always sneaking out, often to drink with friends.
‘‘We don’t want him to go out but he does. The Midnight Express guys have helped us look for him at times, and dropped him off [home] other times. They speak to him about stuff we can’t and it’s cool because they don’t judge, they have a smile on their face and always say ‘contact us 24/7 if you need help with him’.’’
Porirua City Council chief executive Gary Simpson went out with Midnight Express one night recently.
He says he could see its benefits, but councillors have made the decision not to fund it and ‘‘ given our competing pressures it is not something we will be involved in’’.
Mr Simpson says it is ‘‘extremely possible’’ that the service could function under a non-government organisation rather than PCC.
Kiri says it would be ‘‘a real loss’’ if Midnight Express shut down.
‘‘Kids tend to grow up so quick and it’s hard for parents sometimes. To know Midnight Express was out there felt good, they offer support and the kids all speak really highly of them.’’