By MIKE YOUDS
Kamloops is the first community in Canada to come up with a comprehensive plan to end youth homelessness.
A Way Home, two years in the making, was launched at a gathering today (Friday) at Interior Savings Centre. The plan calls for a seamless approach to a complex community issue that has no single remedy or quick fixes.
The crux of the plan is a set of recommendations directed at prevention, housing and support. It envisions a shift from managing to preventing and ultimately ending youth homelessness, said consultant Jean Paul Baker.
The plan also calls for planning, collaboration, social supports, ongoing monitoring and a recognition of diverse needs among youth experiencing homelessness.
“We do believe if we can do all of these things, we really will see an end to youth homelessness,” Baker said.
Kamloops and Kingston, Ont., were selected as the two pilot communities to receive funding to develop an effective plan.
“You’re the first ones, by the way, so congratulations to Kamloops,” said Mary-Anne McMcKitterick, a co-ordinator with Toronto-based Eva’s Initiative and part of a national funding organization called Mobilizing Local Capacity.
“We’re going to work with you to continue to implement the plan.” “If there’s any community in the country that can end youth homelessness, it’s Kamloops,” said MLA Todd Stone.
Mayor Peter Milobar said he hopes the plan doesn’t simply gather dust on the shelf. Additional funding from the provincial and federal governments represents one of the missing pieces in the puzzle, the audience was told.
“We need to get the provinces, we need to get the feds involved, more involved,” Baker said. Homelessness among youth is a mercurial problem, more difficult to grasp than that which affects adults because at-risk youth tend to avoid established social supports.
“There’s a fear that you’re going to get pulled into a system that’s going to tell you how to run your life,” Baker said. “The fact is, we have youth homelessness in Kamloops, so whatever we’re doing is not perfect.”
“Relentless outreach” and the need to directly engage youth were repeatedly stressed at the presentation.
“That youth voice is really key,” said Carmin Mazzotta, the City’s social and community development supervisor. Tony Gamble was part of the Youth Against Youth Homelessness Team that consulted with youth to help form the plan.
“I have good parents,” he said. “If I didn’t have good parents, I might be faced with some of these situations, so you think about that.” Shelly Bonnah, chief operating officer of Interior Community Services, said the issue is close to her heart as a parent and foster parent.
The average age for young people leaving home in B.C. is 28, she noted. Youth without a home lack the basic support a family provides. “Knowing there’s somebody there to catch you when you fall,” Bonnah said.
Catherine McParland, who just completed her bachelor of social work degree at TRU, experienced homelessness as a foster child “aging out” of the care system. She fought back tears recalling that time.
“Homelessness is not an individual issue,” she said. “This is a structural issue that we need to bond together as a community to address. This plan is a first step in that direction.”
A video produced by Mastermind Studios focused on the members of the YAYH team and their ideas for addressing the complexity of the issue.
Jeff Connors of Interior Health, a former youth counsellor, said the follow-through will be the true test. “We need people to continuously push the envelope and to keep it at the top of the list,” Connors said.