Finding ‘A Way Home’ for Homeless Youth

It makes sense. If you hope to reduce homelessness, a good place to start is by reducing youth homelessness. 

That’s because statistics show that the majority of homeless adults first experience homelessness as youth — and, without help, it becomes chronic as they age.

“Currently in Peterborough (Ontario), our youth homelessness system responds at the crisis point. We don’t have a focus on preventing or finding homes for youth,” said Geri Blinick, project manager of a new initiative in the city. It’s called A Way Home Peterborough, and its goal is to reduce youth homelessness in the city by 25% by 2021.

A-Way-Home-Ptbo-Poster-2017-663x1024

A Way Home Peterborough, spear-headed by the city’s YES Shelter for Youth and Families, is based on a national coalition of the same name that strives to move away from simply managing the problem of youth homelessness through emergency services — band aid solutions — and, instead, move towards a proactive approach focusing on prevention and finding housing and other supports as fast and as safely as possible.

The Peterborough group is in the formative stage of bringing together as many as possible local service agencies in which youth are involved, and where prevention can happen, said Blinick  — places like schools, Children’s Aid Society, the youth justice system, child and youth mental health services, police services,  and the hospital emergency department.

“We’d also like youth engagement to be quite central,” she continued, “so we can be informed by the experiences of youth who have been through this and they can suggest ways to improve the system.”

Indigenous people and First Nations around Nogojiwanong/Peterborough will be included since statistics show 26% of homeless youth identify as aboriginal.

Initiatives undertaken by other communities that might act as an example for Peterborough include ‘host homes’ — short-term, family-based environments offered by trained volunteers. The concept is being piloted in Toronto “so kids can stay in their community and go to their schools and receive support, and have a place to land that is not a shelter”, said Blinick.

A school-based example is happening in the Niagara region where students are screened for risk factors around housing and instability. If there are problems, they are identified before they reach a crisis, she explained.

Blinick points out that efforts will also include helping  reconnect youth with their families, if it is safe and possible.

Youth homelessness is usually caused by family break-down, she said, where there is conflict between youth and parents due to un-diagnosed mental illness, poverty, substance abuse, gender issues (a huge number of homeless youth identify as LBGTQ+), or general instability within the home.  But youth may also be placed with Children’s Aid, and then “age out” of the system  — and into homelessness. Youth exiting mental health and addictions’ services  or from correctional institutions also require help to find housing.

Prevention-Housing-Supports-Diagram

Source: A Way Home Canada (www.awayhome.ca)

Yet Peterborough’s lack of housing, affordable and otherwise, is a huge problem.

“Vacancies are so low that people with complex needs and challenges are competing for housing with middle-class people with credit histories, references and stable employment,” said Blinick. 

“It is particularly challenging for youth with no housing history. We’ve found that landlords don’t look at them as desirable tenants because of their age.”

But, she said, Ontario is doing good work with its Poverty Reduction Strategy by developing supportive housing with a focus on youth and others. 

“There are new dollars that are coming into the system, so it’s an exciting time,” she said. “We have a lot more opportunity now than we have had in quite awhile.”

YOUTH HOMELESSNESS STATISTICS (From A Way Home Peterborough)

Peterborough’s Point in Time Count in March, 2016 found, that of the 100 homeless individuals surveyed, 64 had first experienced homelessness before their 26th birthday; 27 were youth under 24; 13 of these youth were chronically homeless (over six months in the past year); and 26% identified as aboriginal. The public school board also counted 32 homeless students.

  • Emergency shelter use has increased 20% in recent years.
  • 85% of youth in shelters need help to attain housing
  • 1/3 need permanent supportive housing
  • a single person in Peterborough on social assistance has under $400 to spend on rental accommodation
  • the average bachelor apartment costs $691
  • the wait time to receive rent-geared-to-income housing for a single individual is eight to 10 years
  • rental vacancy has dropped to 1%. Four per cent is considerd a healthy market

For more information visit http://yesshelter.ca.

By Melodie McCullough

Categories: Feature, Youth

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