Gaps in the system: Youth cope with homelessness on Vancouver Island

Four-part series will look at youth homelessness

Although you may not see it, there are more than 150 youth in Greater Victoria experiencing homelessness, with countless more living in unsafe situations or couch surfing.

They’re sleeping in cars, crashing at friend’s homes, spending time in public spaces during the day and doing their best to survive.

Local organizations such as Threshold Housing Society and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness have called youth homelessness a “hidden issue” but also one that can be lessened or prevented if the right supports are in place. It’s also an issue that inevitably leads to long-term, adult homelessness down the line.

“There is a direct correlation between adults facing chronic homelessness and adverse childhood circumstances,” said Colin Tessier, executive director of Threshold Housing Society, an organization with the aim to open doors for youth and help prevent adult homelessness.

Threshold Housing Society offers safe housing to youth who need it and helps guide them in life by connecting them with resources for things such as health, mental health and finances. The organization also helps set them up for success by helping youth transition into adulthood and learn basics like cooking and budgeting, and even helps them find employment or go to school if that’s what they want. Those that are aged 13 to 24 can benefit from programs provided by Threshold.

READ ALSO: Youth-led report calls on B.C. government to create plan to end youth homelessness

Over the course of the last year, the organization was able to house 56 youth in total, according to its annual report, but the report stresses that more needs to be done. In the 2018/19 fiscal year, Threshold received a total of 122 applications, of which 20 were accepted. Forty-six applications were referrals from other community agencies and 77 of them were self-referrals.

“Indeed, the program could double tomorrow and still not satisfy the need in the community,” the report says.

The Greater Victoria Point in Time Count is an event in which volunteers are able to collect information about people experiencing homelessness in the region by connecting directly with them on a particular night. It provides a snapshot of experiences of homelessness in the region but isn’t completely accurate because it is hard to connect with everyone, especially when many are living in a fluid state.

In 2018, youth aged 15 to 24 were a focus of the count. It found that more than 150 youth are experiencing homelessness, with many more who were not seen that day. The count also revealed that more than half of the respondents’ first experiences of homelessness occurred when they were under the age of 25, with 41 per cent first experiencing homelessness under the age of 19.

READ ALSO: ‘Permanent poverty until I die:’ Former foster kids left behind by B.C.’s tuition waiver program

The report that came out of the Point in Time Count said youths cited aging out of government care, or the foster care system, as well as conflicts at home with a parent or guardian as reasons for losing housing. Obstacles such as discrimination, not having income assistance and family breakdowns and conflict were identified as barriers to accessing safe housing.

Youth respondents also said the top service needs identified by youth respondents were mental health services, learning disability services and the need for services that relate to inter-generational trauma.

“Adverse childhood circumstances, trauma, these are all challenges that when young, can lead to mental health issues or substance use issues and more barriers,” Tessier said. “It’s predictable, and the evidence shows that.”

This VI Free Daily series will take a look at different factors of youth homelessness. This is part one of the four-part series. For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca


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