Fostering Change: Keeping Our Youth Involved In The Community

While its causes happen out of sight and out of mind, the effects are a recurring image in most people’s lives. Homelessness is a problem not just of economics, but of information available to the public. This week, we look at local solutions, as well as some innovative next steps being taken elsewhere in Canada to deal with this hidden, yet ever-present issue of young people living out on the streets.

Homelessness is not as visible a problem in Halton like it is in Toronto, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Homelessness is transient, and therefore it is difficult to gauge just how many youth have been struggling. Typically, youth who have been put out of their homes or foster care move from friend to friend, sleeping on couches or in cars, somewhere outside of the system where they aren’t accounted for. In Peel Region, 4,000 children and youth used shelter or transitional housing services, while over 450 were turned away due to lack of space.

In Oakville, several programs identified in our 2015 Vital Signs report are examples of what’s possible in supporting youth. From the Halton Sport Leadership Program, STRIDE’s Youth Employment Program, to the Halton Catholic District School Board’s “Welcome Centre”, there are good foundations for youth in building leadership skills and community involvement.

However, if we want to look at next steps for our community, we should take a look at the work being done by our friends at the Vancouver Foundation. They’re one of over 191 Community Foundations across Canada, and they have an initiative to help youth slipping through the cracks. This program, called Fostering Change, looks to build leadership skills in the community focusing on youths who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness.

While many parents understand their children may continue to need their assistance, not just financial but emotional, well into their 20s, limited knowledge exists about government support for youth in foster care (which, for example ends at age 19 in British Columbia). We have to recognize that youth most likely to struggle transitioning onto their own into adulthood are those dependent on government care throughout their childhood.

This is why Vancouver’s Fostering Change program engages youth in the planning and decision-making of the initiative. They have a Youth Advisory Circle which consists of a diverse group of young people between the ages of 17-24 who have lived the experience of being homeless after receiving government care, whether that was foster care or other services. Young people lead this process, advising the Vancouver Foundation on research, policy and communications in the youth homelessness area, and working with community organizations to increase the voice and engagement of youth transitioning out of care.

Fostering Change believes youth transitioning out of care should receive a stipend to help cover living costs, growing long-term relationships with adults for advice, references and experience and giving opportunities to engage with their communities. Engaging and educating youth early on is important: they’re likely the ones seeking out affordable housing as adults.