Once homeless Kamloops and Kelowna youth building families and getting an education | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Once homeless Kamloops and Kelowna youth building families and getting an education

Katherine McParland, second from left, stands with supporters of A Way Home Kamloops on the ribbon-cutting day for the Safe Suites program.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK / Katherine McParland
February 18, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Dozens of at-risk youth across Kamloops and in Kelowna are getting the help they need to secure a stable future.

In 2019, A Way Home Kamloops helped 71 youth get in stable housing, saw 16 pursue post-secondary education and gave three newborns a stable place to start their lives.

Stats from last year show that almost six dozen youth secured stable housing with the help of the Youth Housing First initiative, the new Safe Suites program, landlord agreements and family mediation.

Katherine McParland, executive director with A Way Home Kamloops, says this year stands out more than most because the youth involved in the programs were able to grow family ties, make advancements on their education, and learn critical life skills.

A Way Home launched Youth Housing First in 2015, and at that time there were only a couple of units. The organization works with local landlords to take partial accountability for the youth seeking housing, and the youth have the opportunity to carry on the lease at the end of the agreement. Currently, there are 18 units across the city, and McParland is hoping to add more.

“We provided program housing, so that would be our scattered housing (Youth Housing First) program to 32 youth and four children and we also had three babies born in our housing this year, which is awesome," she said. "That actually helps the next generation, because you can keep mom and baby together and prevent that child from going into care, and that creates that attachment which helps create healthy families for the future.”

McParland says seven of the youth in the program were able to go to university this year, thanks in part to five full-tuition bursaries from Thompson Rivers University. Six other youths have been working with student advisors to determine their preferred program and three are working to upgrade their existing education.

“We’re seeing some pretty significant education outcomes and I think it shows how if youth don’t have stable housing and they’re homeless, they can't really focus on school or the next step. Once they have a stable, safe place to be, they can focus on those critical developmental milestones that will really set the tone for their future,” McParland said.

Although McParland is celebrating the successes, she recognizes the gaps that still remain.

“We had 130 referrals from youth experiencing homeless, 26 of those were carried over from 2018 and the rest were new… unfortunately 59 kids we couldn't help because of lack of resources.”

Credit: FACEBOOK / Katherine McParland

Although some youth weren’t able to find housing through the organization, McParland says the new Safe Suites program launched this year has put five medium-risk youth on the path to stable housing and a secure future. After a failed pilot attempt, she realized the program would require around-the-clock staffing, and says now that they’ve worked out the kinks, the youth are on a successful path.

“We did a pilot many years ago, where we did provide young people with housing but didn’t provide around the clock support, and young people were experiencing domestic violence, trafficking and suicide attempts because they didn’t have that support, so we know with this population that they really needed that 24/7 support,” McParland says.

Now the program is looking for another staff member to fill up the night shift from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m, which McParland says has been particularly difficult to fill. She’s hoping to find someone willing to be there during the night, when youth crisis can hit the hardest.

Despite difficulty retaining a night shift employee, McParland says the program has seen great success. Safe Suites is now one of 14 life-skills programs in B.C. that has been designated by the Ministry of Children and Family Development to help youth after aging out of foster care.

 The Ministry program, Agreements with Young Adults, allows youth who have aged out of the foster system the financial support to finish high school and seek post-secondary, take a rehabilitation program, secure housing or take a life skills course. A life skills coach will be on hand every day to work with the youth individually, something McParland says is invaluable.

The Essential Program with Kelowna’s New Opportunities for Women (NOW) Canada organization is the only Okanagan organization offering this, with the other locations are in Vancouver, Whistler, Prince George and other cities.

Credit: FACEBOOK / Katherine McParland

Fundraising has been one of the main missions of the organization, and they’ve gotten help from a motorcycle group, local Rotary Clubs and other organizations. McParland says Safe Suites will cost about $400,000 to operate for the year, and although they raised about $100,000 for the project, the rest has come from the province.

All in all, McParland says the Safe Suites program has been a success. The youth each sign up to make dinner for the house members, they’re planning for their futures, and learning about self care and financial literacy.

“They have weekly house meetings where they're actually designing the programming. So they're saying, ‘In the future we would like to have mental health workshops, we’d like to have therapy dogs come, we'd like homework help.’ It’s quite a different way of processing, it's coming from that youth-led perspective,” she says.

The youth who graduate from Safe Suites will eventually move on to other programs offered by A Way Home.

“We’ll look at each individual youth after they’ve stabilized, gotten those adulting skills and we’ll know they will be successful in the program, we’ll work with them to find out what kind of housing situation is the best to help them thrive.”

Moving forward, McParland says A Way Home will continue to seek funding to keep Safe Suites going.

“It's a top priority to see it continue, that’s the most important part of the work that we do, because it's that first step, that bridge out of homelessness is housing and the community has shown they’re super invested in the housing, Safe Suites in particular,” McParland says.

Kelowna is also trying to find new ways to help homeless youth.

Jamie Lloyd-Smith, a project co-ordinator with A Way Home Kelowna, says although they started only two years ago, they have big plans to unveil for the upcoming year.

“In terms of housing supports, that is a gap we’ve noticed in our community that there’s no youth-specific housing at this moment,” Lloyd- Smith says.

They’re focusing on advocacy and education while trying to arrange places for the 32 youth who have been recommended to the program. She says the momentum has started, as four young people now have their own independent suites thanks to partnerships between local landlords with A Way Home Kelowna and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Moving forward, the organization will open up more than a dozen spaces for homeless youth this fall thanks to a partnership with a private developer.

“We’ll have referrals into the program, and based on our conversations and prioritization, we’ll determine which youths get into the units,” Lloyd-Smith says.

Prevention is another big focus for the organization. Next school year, two schools in Kelowna will run a pilot project in an attempt to determine youth who may be at risk for homelessness.

“The other big initiative we’re working on is prevention, so we’re launching what is called the Upstream project,” Lloyd-Smith says. “It’s an early assessment evaluation tool used in schools to screen young people for their risk of homeless.”

Grade eight students will take a survey, which will then be sent to researchers at York University. The data will be sent back to A Way Home, who will then make a plan for how best to help the at-risk youth. It hasn’t yet been determined which schools will partake.

Click the links if you want to learn more about A Way Home Kamloops and A Way Home Kelowna.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler 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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