Formerly homeless Kelowna woman outlines need for more youth housing, support - InfoNews

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Formerly homeless Kelowna woman outlines need for more youth housing, support

Maddi Marin used to live on Kelowna's streets. Now she says youth need more housing options.
Image Credit: Maddi Marin
February 02, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Maddi Marin lived on Kelowna’s streets when she was 17 years old.

She bounced from the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club's Kelowna Youth Shelter and then, after a few months, to the non-profit’s transitional housing complex, Penny Lane Transition House.

Marin kept busy while living in the shelter distracting herself from her surroundings, which often involved sharing space with other youth who were addicted to drugs. She painted every day.

Originally, she went to Rutland Senior Secondary, but when her attendance dropped because of the challenges she was dealing with in her personal life, she was expelled. She found solace in Central School’s Gateway Program, and discovered a passion for aviation that lead to a certificate from Okanagan College for Aircraft Maintenance Engineering.

While in the shelter, Marin saw kids with substance abuse issues that would enter rehab, then return to the shelter and start using drugs again.

“I watched it happen to quite a few of the kids. One had left for rehab twice and he went right back to the shelter and started using every time,” she said.

She avoided drugs and said anyone struggling in a similar situation should do their best to distract themselves, and set goals.

She was able to achieve her own goals by being an observational learner, she said, avoiding doing what she was seeing with the other kids’ situations and maintained her appearance to boost her confidence and avoid the stigma associated with homelessness.

Gateway was a crucial opportunity that opened the doors for her.

“I do recommend it because what I wanted most was to feel like I was moving up and moving forward. I wanted to feel like I was a part of something. It was a good step and if (the program doesn’t work for you), the worst you can do is back out of it,” she said.

From there she was able to find someone who would rent her an apartment, which she said was instrumental for her well-being.

“(My landlord) was my God-sent angel,” she said.

Marin believes there needs to be more support in place for what comes after transitional housing.

Although she said it’s no one’s obligated to house a formerly homeless young person, ”there should be a program where people are willing to open their homes.”

“The (teenagers) want to feel the love that they (are) missing. They need somewhere nice, safe and warm and more support.”

Now 20, she lives in Vancouver and is currently attending the Canadian Tourism College to be a stewardess.

Sarah MacKinnon, a regional director with the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club, said before 2016, it was operating with 12 to 15 youth a night at its shelter.

But then they decided to change tack and pool resources towards helping youth stay with families or relatives, and keep them out of a shelter system. The non-profit focuses more on connecting youth facing homelessness with resources that are available, she said.

“Young people do better when they’re surrounded by people they love,” MacKinnon said. “The opportunities for positive outcomes go through the roof (for people who can stay with relatives and in homes) versus people who enter a shelter system.”

Now they serve roughly one person a night, but that number may increase in the future as they have started reaching out to other adult shelters for youth who may be better suited for the resources the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club can offer, she said.

“Not everyone’s homelessness can be prevented…  but what we’ve found when we don’t have 15 youth staying here a night, the youth get more one-and-one attention from staff and it’s a much quicker process to get them out of homelessness.”

With Kelowna’s high rental rates, there is a need for youth housing in the community, she said.

“They struggle with affordability and competition from market housing and struggle to find a landlord who is understanding," MacKinnon said. “Knowing that young people still struggle… The Okanagan Boys and Girls Club has committed with A Way Home Kelowna supports to look even further upstream to work with people in schools to assess the risks of homelessness in youth early on.”

Housing First for Youth is currently underway in Kelowna, which is part of the A Way Home Kelowna, a youth homeless prevention strategy.

Part of the strategy outlines the need and implementation of support networks for youth to find and maintain housing. The strategy coincides with Journey Home, a community initiative to end functional homelessness by 2024, she said.


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