Young and home­less

Sackville Tribune - - OPINION -

It’s called “ag­ing out.” It’s when a child in pro­vin­cial fos­ter care gets too old to stay in care and ends up al­most on their own. In Sur­rey last De­cem­ber, a 19-year-old woman was found dead in a tent, less than a year af­ter she had reached her 19th birth­day and left the care sys­tem.

Bernard Richard, B.C.’S in­terim Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Chil­dren and Youth, told re­porters, “We can’t do any­thing for her. But we need to be able to re­spond to oth­ers be­fore the same thing hap­pens to them ... Many of them are not ag­ing out of care, they’re dy­ing out of care.”

He’s right – and it’s not strictly a B.C. prob­lem, ei­ther.

Last week, End Home­less­ness in St. John’s re­leased its first snap­shot of the num­ber of peo­ple who are home­less in New­found­land and Labrador’s cap­i­tal city.

They found 166 on Nov. 30, when their sur­vey was con­ducted; 38 of them were be­tween the ages of 16 and 24.

Of the rest, many had started on the streets just as early: “It is alarm­ing that nearly three out of five re­spon­dents first be­came home­less be­fore age 24 years,” the re­port says. Sim­i­lar sur­veys in P.E.I. have found fewer home­less youth, but that doesn’t mean ev­ery­thing’s fine. The Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity found that 19 per cent of the 137 peo­ple in its home­less sur­vey were youth un­der 24, and the trend is fairly strong.

Youth home­less­ness is only part of a larger prob­lem, but it is par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant, first be­cause youth might not have any­thing near the tools and sup­ports they need to get off the streets, and sec­ond be­cause they still have a life­time of po­ten­tial ahead of them.

If we can’t get the youngest among our home­less peo­ple off the streets by early in­ter­ven­tion, what chance is there for those who have spent longer liv­ing rough, and whose suf­fer­ing and needs may be even more in­grained? And with so many of the home­less start­ing their tran­sient lives early in life, it may well be an op­por­tu­nity to re­duce the num­ber of older home­less peo­ple, as well.

Fi­nan­cial sup­ports are needed, along with ev­ery­thing from the pos­si­bil­ity of ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing re­sources to men­tal health sup­ports.

Fos­ter care is of­ten a stop­gap for chil­dren in abu­sive sit­u­a­tions. It’s hard to imag­ine where young peo­ple find them­selves when, all at once, they’re too old for fos­ter care and have to fend for them­selves de­spite the bridg­ing pro­grams that ex­ist. The ex­pe­ri­ence must be jar­ring, frus­trat­ing, fright­en­ing and more than chal­leng­ing.

There are sup­ports – some from gov­ern­ments, oth­ers from com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions – but we have to do better.

Young peo­ple have to have op­tions that don’t in­clude be­ing found dead in a tent in in the woods in Sur­rey, B.C.

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