Count hopes to illuminate hidden issue of youth homelessness in Kamloops | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Count hopes to illuminate hidden issue of youth homelessness in Kamloops

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KAMLOOPS - Kamloops is a community leading the way on youth homelessness, but while social agencies are still collecting information frmo a major survey one thing is clear — there is a lack of information about the issue.

Last week A Way Home, the group made up of community and government partners, held the country's first survey specifically for homeless youth, according to the group’s youth homeless manager Katharine McParland, to get an idea of the homeless youth situation in the city. While data is still being sorted through, she says some patterns are already evident, including issues with collecting information in the past.

“In Canada what we normally do is the point in time count,” she says. “Unfortunately many youth are not approached because they don’t look homeless.”

There are a couple reasons why there may not be accurate numbers for youth homelessness, according to McParland. One is that they aren’t approached for counts because they don’t look like a stereotypical homeless person. Often they’ll be carrying a backpack and may look high school or university age, so the assumption is they aren’t homeless.

In addition to the stereotyping of homelessness, McParland says often the stigmatization of being homeless means some youth won’t identify as homeless. On top of that, homeless youth may not be homeless in the classic sense. While they may not be sleeping on the street every night, many experience homelessness episodically or be couch surfing. This can be due to issues at home or with their family.

To help make the count more accurate, the group worked with the school district and asked questions like “Have you run away?”

Another issue facing homeless youth is a lack of knowledge about services available to them. An important step recently identified was educating youth about what’s out there to help them.

Even when services are available, the housing system can let them down. While actual space may be available, McParland says the resources just aren’t there to make sure youth have a safe, stable place to learn life skills which are often lacking.

A pilot program in Kamloops was only able to transition one of four youth to housing as issues like drug abuse and self harm appeared and the resources weren’t there to help.

“We really had to pause that project until we have the staffing to keep the youth safe,” she says. “Fifty per cent of the youth we can’t provide housing to because they’re too high risk.”

While the data is just being reviewed now, McParland expects there to be youth as young as 15 years of age homeless in Kamloops and maybe younger.

“I’m expecting over 100 youth,” she says. “But we won’t know until the data is in.”

A large portion of those youth will be from foster care. McParland cites an American study that showed up to 60 per cent of foster kids leave the system and are homeless within six months. She doesn’t know how that might be reflected in Kamloops, because no data has been collected.

The data collected last week will be put into a report McParland is working on. She hopes to have it out by mid-December, but it may take until January. From there the goal is to start advocating for system to help transition youth into the housing system, and to keep them from joining the long term adult homeless population.

“These stats will fuel our action,” she says. “If we can prevent youth homeless we can lower adult homeless.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Brendan Kergin or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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