Youth urge B.C. government to make plan to end youth homelessness

The lone recommendation from a report on youth homelessness in B.C. is simple: Develop a distinct plan to end youth homelessness and start implementing it by the end of the year.

The youth-led report was released Friday morning by Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth. It was written with input from 231 youth across the province, who shared their experiences and insights at 13 community forums organized by youth leaders, as well as through an online survey.

“It took a tremendous amount of courage and bravery to share these stories,” said Charlesworth, noting that some of the youth felt it was “too late” to avoid their own experiences with homelessness, but wanted to help other kids.

About 53 per cent of the youth who participated in the community forums had their first experience with homelessness before the age of 16.

“All over B.C., right now, there are youth who don’t know where they will sleep tonight,” said the executive summary of the 111-page report, which was written by Katherine McParland, the  executive director of A Way Home Kamloops Society.

Katherine McParland, executive director for A Way Home Kamloops, during an interview at the organization’s office in Kamloops. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

The report urges the provincial government to seek the views of homeless youth in developing a plan.

“The voices of lived experience must come first in the development of a plan,” McParland said Friday.

In a letter accompanying the report, Charlesworth said that while the provincial government has acknowledged the need to take action on homelessness in its poverty reduction strategy, “there has not yet been any specific recognition of the unique experiences and needs of youth who face homelessness — often after being in government care.”

Drawing on the input and “lived experience” of forum participants, the report identified several pathways into homelessness for youth, including unsafe family home experiences, an unsafe foster care system, addiction and mental health issues, affordability and discrimination.

Barriers to accessing housing included gaps in services, such as youth shelters, and a shortage of youth-specific housing options.

Solutions suggested by the youth included investing in “lived experience leadership,” improving foster care and helping youth to find housing before they age out of care.

The first-ever youth homeless count conducted in Metro Vancouver in April 2018 found at least 681 young people were experiencing homelessness across the region.