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Youth Homelessness on the Rise in Kamloops

Latest youth homelessness count shows increase since 2016 of youth living on the streets.

By Katie Hyslop 28 Jun 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is The Tyee’s education and youth reporter.

Despite much effort to end youth homelessness in Kamloops, the problem is only getting worse.

That’s what the results of the city’s second youth homelessness count show with 136 youth ages 13-24 reporting homelessness at some point in the last year. Ninety-two youth were homeless during the count, which took place May 8 to 10. Of those, 35 were considered “hidden” homeless for sleeping on couches or in motels, while the other 57 were considered absolutely homeless for sleeping outdoors, in cars, hospital, jail, or shelters.

That is more than the 129 youth who identified as homeless during the city’s last youth homelessness count that took place over a week in October 2016. Of those, just 56 youth identified experiencing homelessness at the time.

The results come just a week after the release of the adult homelessness count in the city, showing a near doubling of the homeless population since 2016.

“I think it’s a result of the affordable housing crisis, because a lot of youth are saying that they can’t afford their rent,” said Katherine McParland, executive director and co-founder of A Way Home Kamloops, a coalition of organizations dedicated to ending youth homelessness that conducted the count in collaboration with Thompson Rivers University.

McParland added the youth numbers are likely an undercount since it’s difficult to reach every young person sleeping on a couch in or their car — especially if the stigma associated with homelessness prevents them from speaking out.

Part of Kamloops’ housing crisis is the loss of transitional housing for youth, with A Way Home listing just six youth beds offered by organizations in their coalition, plus four youth shelter beds for youth under 19 funded by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and one transition bed run by another organization. Youth 19 and older have access to the 100 adult shelter beds in the city.

While A Way Home plans on opening another three beds next month, that’s still fewer than the 20 youth beds available to youth in 2016.

851px version of KatherineMcParland.jpg
A Way Home Kamloops executive director Katherine McParland: ‘I think it’s a result of the affordable housing crisis, because a lot of youth are saying that they can’t afford their rent.’ Photo by Katie Hyslop.

Details of the count

This year’s survey was conducted slightly differently than in 2016, when Kamloops became the first city in Canada to conduct a homeless count for youth pinned to a specific point in time.

Instead of happening over a week like it did in 2016, when the count surveyed the offices of organizations that serve youth and public services like hospitals and jails, this year’s count was three days long and surveyed both organizations and institutions but also homeless hotspots like the bus station and youth shelter. It included two street counts at different times of day.

A more detailed breakdown of the survey results is expected when Thompson Rivers University releases its report on the results in coming months. But A Way Home is already talking about some of the count’s findings, including the 57 youth who were considered absolute homeless. The count found that:

Additionally the majority of the 35 youth identified as hidden homeless were females and between the ages of 14 to 16.

“I think it really speaks to the survival rates that a lot of young girls experience,” said McParland of the 12 youth engaged in survival sex work.

“A lot of girls shared about their experiences of having to trade sexual favours in order to have a hotel, and just relying on these predator men to help fund their hotel so that they’re safe from the elements.”

The number of homeless youth already receiving government services shows how inadequate these services are in the current housing crisis, McParland added. She says B.C. could learn a lot from other jurisdictions like Wales about how to support struggling youth.

“They actually have legislated homelessness prevention,” said McParland, a former kid in care who spent time homeless after aging out of the system.

“If a young person is at risk of homelessness within 56 days, the state actually has a duty to provide accommodations for up to six months. I think if B.C. looked at adopting a policy like that [for] all of our systems — [foster] care, treatment, jail — I think we’d see a reduction in youth homelessness, because it definitely has systemic causes.”

A provincial strategy

While the numbers from the youth homelessness count are discouraging, McParland said she’s energized by the work A Way Home is doing to end youth homelessness, not only in Kamloops but across the province through its participation in the BC Coalition to End Youth Homelessness.

Co-founded and co-chaired by McParland and Fred Ford from Pacific Community Resources Society, the 35-organization coalition received $19,500 from BC Housing earlier this year for its first meeting to establish a provincial strategy for ending youth homelessness.

Held in Vancouver May 23, the meeting included youth who had been homeless, coalition members and representatives from seven different provincial ministries including Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson and Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson.

Meeting participants focused on three major ways in which the government could help end youth homelessness: changing eligibility criteria for supports like income assistance, Community Living BC, and BC Housing to reflect the needs of youth under 19; improving coordination of those services and supports across all ministries; and prioritizing legislation to change how youth age out of care when they turn 19.

None of the ministers at the meeting were made available for an interview, but in an emailed statement a government spokesperson pointed to the $1.5 million the Ministry of Children and Family Development has spent in Kamloops to fund four shelter beds, life skills and outreach workers and a youth housing mentorship program.

While supports for kids in government care end at age 19, youth who are attending school, a skills training or life skills program, or a rehabilitation program are eligible for the Agreements With Young Adults program for six months at a time, up to a maximum of four years.

As of April 1, program eligibility was extended to youth up to age 27 from the previous ceiling of age 26, and financial support for program participants increased to a maximum $1,250 from $1,000 per month to help cover living expenses like housing, food, transit and childcare.

A bottom-up process

BC Housing has also launched its own Homeless Prevention Program that identifies youth leaving care as a priority group, connecting youth with outreach workers to find suitable rental housing, community-based supports and rental-supplements. Earlier this year Robinson appointed McParland to BC Housing’s board of directors.

The province is working towards developing its own B.C.-wide strategy to end homelessness among all age groups that’s expected to be finished by next year’s budget.

“This cross-government effort is looking at how youth are slipping through the cracks now and what can be done collectively to prevent this from continuing so that youth in British Columbia have the best opportunity possible for success,” read the government’s emailed statement.

But the BC Coalition to End Youth Homelessness is working on its own strategy that focuses on youth.

“At the BC Coalition-level we really identified our core values, which are that this plan should be led by youth first voices — so young people with lived experience — B.C. communities, and Indigenous voices. We really envision a grassroots, bottom up process,” McParland said.

The process gets underway next month when McParland and youth ages 18-24 from across B.C. come together in Victoria for training on leading youth forums on homelessness.  [Tyee]

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