The Truth About Youth Homelessness (It’s Not What You’d Expect)

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Charity Spotlight: This post was provided by Cara Sinclair, Founder & Director of H.E.L.P. For Street Youth of Canada Society, as part of our ongoing charity spotlight series.

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No one wants to be homeless and living on the street. It’s cold, dangerous and it can kill you. But at this very moment in Vancouver, 600+ youth, some as young as 13, call “the street” home.

How did they get there?

Why? That’s a complicated question. But for many youth in Vancouver, the streets are safer than home.

Some youth come from generational poverty and leave home or are pushed out when they become a burden on the family’s meager income. Some come from such dysfunction as to be exploited by family into prostitution & drug-trafficking. Others have mental health issues – diagnosed, or not. While some youth have spent their entire childhood in foster care and “age out” at 19 years old, after which they are left to fend for themselves, unsupported. Dysfunction is normalized for these youth.  Abuse, violence and deceit may have been routine childhood experiences. 

What are the dangers street youth face?

Living on the street is dangerous.  Street youth are vulnerable, and many face a wide range of victimization and exploitation by peers and strangers. Some are pushed into prostitution, crime and drug-trafficking just to survive. Understandably, many have a high level of distrust of adults, authority, police, and social services.

Why can’t they get off the street?

Due to past or recurring trauma, some youth suffer from cognitive disabilities impairing their ability to make smart decisions. They repeatedly make impulsive, bad decisions that cause them further harm.

When temporary accommodation is available, it often leads to more problems: Safe housing isn’t affordable, and affordable housing isn’t safe.

Many street youth suffer from mental health issues. They want help, but navigating mental health networks without support is daunting and discouraging for youth, who often fall through the cracks into despair. Their wellness can deteriorate quickly; they go from homeless to entrenched. These youth have no mentors to guide them in a positive way. They’re completely alone, surviving day to day. Many lose hope and think they will die on the street, alone. Some do.

“Exiting” the street is a long, tough slog. It takes the dedication of many professionals: outreach, social workers, doctors, addiction & trauma counselors, teachers, etc. Through a combined effort, this network of caring people can and do help many street youth slowly rebuild their lives.

There is hope.

Educational funds for homeless youth are practically non-existent. But without education and a marketable skill how will these youth ever have a chance? That’s where H.E.L.P. For Street Youth comes in.

We work with professionals to identify youth who have stabilized, are on the road to recovery, and may be ready to return to school to learn a trade, get a job, get off the street and have a better life. We enter into agreements with agencies to ensure the youth has a mentor, a full support system in place, and that we are given regular updates.

We’ve awarded our first educational scholarship. Amy, a young woman studying to be a dental assistant, is on track to graduate in June.

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We also work with local high school students who donate backpacks filled with essential items for street youth through our Project Backpack campaign. Project Backpack has been going for eight years, and involves hundreds of students supplying street youth with items to help them live. To date, we’ve stuffed and donated close to 1800 packs – that’s approximately $90,000 worth of donated merchandise.  It’s a growing community campaign that affects both the students & street youth in a positive way.

Our mission is to help these vulnerable youth go from a hopeless to a hopeful place. Our mandate is about forming partnerships with many people: the professionals who work with the street youth, the community members who donate funds, the local high school students who donate backpacks, and the street youth themselves.

Together we can help make a difference – one youth at a time. 

Young woman painting the sun at sunset

 

The H.E.L.P Scholarship Fund gives street youth a chance at a better life through education, skills learning and apprenticeship. Learn more about them on their Charity Profile Page >>

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