How a Kamloops woman uses lessons learned on the street to help homeless youth find housing | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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How a Kamloops woman uses lessons learned on the street to help homeless youth find housing

McParland is homelessness manager for A Way Home Kamloops, a non-profit that advocates for youth at risk. Eleven years ago she was sleeping on a riverbank.
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KAMLOOPS – Katharine McParland knows firsthand how difficult it is for youth leaving foster care to find a place to live.

She spent nearly three years on the streets.

Now 30, McParland is homelessness manager for A Way Home Kamloops, a non-profit that advocates for youth at risk. Eleven years ago she was one of them, sleeping on a riverbank.

McParland grew up a permanent ward of the government, and went through “multitudes” of foster homes before graduating out of care.

“When I turned 19 I had a transition plan," she says. "The goal was to go to university in the human services field. Unfortunately, I aged out of foster care.”

Housing was much easier to find 11 years ago, but McParland says finding somewhere to live was still an immense challenge.

“I ended up trying really hard to keep my head above water, did some couch surfing for a while and then worked really hard and secured a basement suite.”

McParland found out quickly that things wouldn’t be easy for her. An instance of abuse forced her to leave the suite and she lost most of her belongings.

“This is when things got really bad,” she says. “I ended up sleeping on the riverbanks, in parkades, on the sidewalk. Every day was a struggle for survival.”

A woman she knew from her time in care saw her walking in the snow one day and secured her a room at a local motel and helped her find permanent housing. McParland says that motel room was her first real home.

“Having a fridge where I could keep my food and just have some stability, even though it wasn’t the greatest housing option.”

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Although McParland was able to get back on her feet, she was unwilling to leave behind the dozens of youth still on the streets.

Her first job was with a local non-profit in Kamloops where her clients were supposed to be adults, but she found more and more youth were coming in needing help as well.

“I began having conversations with them and many of them had aged out of foster care or were fleeing housing that wasn’t meeting their needs. Something shifted inside me,” she says. “I realized it was system failure and not an individual fault.”

In 2012 she and a small group gathered in an abandoned building to discuss the problem and how best to tackle it. At around the same time Kamloops was one of two Canadian communities chosen to receive funding for a pilot project aimed at developing a youth homeless action plan.

“The city approached us and we became the steering committee behind the first youth homelessness action plan, A Way Home Kamloops,” she says. “It really grew into a movement.”

Canada’s National Coalition to End Homelessness saw the momentum they had gathered in Kamloops and asked to use their name to become A Way Home Canada. It’s since spread around the world and there are currently chapters in the U.S. and Scotland. A chapter recently opened in Kelowna. 

“Everyone is recognizing that this is an urgent need,” she says. “There’s growing awareness that interventions that work for homeless adults don’t work with youth. We really need to use our innovation and collective creativity to start developing interventions that really meet different youths’ needs at the developmental stage.”

To that end, A Way Home Kamloops started the first Youth Housing Wrap Force.

“We really wanted to re-create that family privilege because you see young people in healthy families, and their family really wraps around them when they experience difficulties and challenges, which are normal experiences growing up,” McParland says. “A youth can walk in, say 'I’m homeless I need help' and they’re connected to the wrap force. (It) helps them find services to meet their needs without making them tell their difficult stories over and over.”

The wrap force consists of 16 private organizations or corporations that each sponsor a youth at risk of homelessness.

“As youth in care you don’t have the support of an extended family,” she says. “If the Ministry of Children and Family Development is the parent, we need to act as aunts and uncles.”

McParland says Kamloops was the first community in all of Canada to conduct a youth specific homelessness count in 2016. It found 129 Kamloops youth had experienced homelessness in the past and 56 were currently homeless.

Youth homelessness is only likely to increase in the current housing climate. The province’s watchdog for children and youth says the housing crisis in B.C. is hurting young people and families the most. Bernard Richard is the Representative for Children and Youth, responsible for helping young British Columbians and their families navigate the child and youth welfare system. He said last month the housing crisis is resulting in some youth becoming vulnerable and some families are being torn apart.

“The general rule is that poverty and housing in themselves are not sufficient to justify taking children into care but… if we’re realistic, we know that it’s taken into consideration along with any other issue that might be present," he says. 

McParland says their study showed a “strong theme of young people aging out of foster care.”

“We used different methodology which included partnering with the school district and this year it will be mandatory for every grade 10 student to participate,” she says. “We’re gearing up to do another count May 8 to 10.”

She says this year the questions will be more specific to better understand the lengths of time and reasons behind their homelessness.

“Housing availability is likely to be a major factor,” she says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw or call 250-718-0428 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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