There are homeless youth in the Cowichan Valley. (submitted)

Youth homelessness takes spotlight in Cowichan for Homelessness Action Week

Every year there are between 35,000 to 40,000 young people who experience homelessness

Young people who are homeless (ages 13-24) make up approximately 20 per cent of the homeless population in Canada. Over the course of the year, there are between 35,000 to 40,000 young people who experience homelessness, and on any given night between 6,000 and 7,000.

It’s statistics like those that have inspired Safe Youth Cowichan Youth to team up this year with Cowichan Housing Association to gather youth voices around the issue of homelessness.

The most recent Point in Time Count in the Cowichan region surveyed 24 youth between the ages of 17 to 25. Of these youth, eight were Absolutely Homeless, 14 were Hidden Homeless and two were at risk of homelessness. Eleven were male and 13 were female. Fifteen identified as First Nations, Métis or non-status Aboriginal. Eighteen youth had lived in the Cowichan region for five years or more.

Safe Youth Cowichan recognizes that homelessness can often be connected to people facing challenges with mental health. In August, Safe Youth Cowichan began surveying youth to better understand their needs around mental health and housing challenges, which will be included in a report to help develop a housing first strategy for youth in the community.

“I feel like we’re just trying to shoo people away rather than deal with the problems,” said Safe Youth Cowichan member, Morgan. “We need more houses for people who are on very low incomes to go. The amount of rent I am paying compared to my income is like two-thirds. But if I tried to move somewhere else there would just be nowhere else to go.”

Mikaela Whitelaw, Close to Home project coordinator with Cowichan Housing Association, is working with Safe Youth Cowichan to include the issue of youth homelessness in the survey.

“We know that youth homelessness is a big issue, and we need to hear the voices of youth in all of this,” she said. “Safe Youth Cowichan is helping us to gather those voices through their survey, and through their events with youth this year.”

During Homelessness Action Week, which runs from Oct. 8 to Oct. 15, Safe Youth Cowichan are working to raise awareness about the issue of youth homelessness and dispel some of the myths. Safe Youth Cowichan and Cowichan Housing Association will have information displays set up around the community during the week. Locations include the Starbucks at Beverly Corners, the Starbucks on Trunk Road and the Cowichan Library.

Project director Christy Villiers stresses the need to learn more and understand the links between mental health, support services and housing.

“The research tells us that youth who fall into homelessness becoming entrenched in the street youth lifestyle means a number of long-term consequences like increased risk of exploitation, violence, victimization, physical and sexual abuse, greater involvement with the justice system, disengagement from school, difficulties getting a job, and face increased risk of mental health problems and addictions because life on the streets is inherently stressful. It’s important to respond and prevent youth homelessness as early as possible because many chronically homeless adults we see on the streets today experienced homelessness when they were young.”

The Close to Home Project is hosted by Cowichan Housing Association in partnership with the Mental Health and Substance Use Collective Impact Team, Social Planning Cowichan and funded by the Government of Canada Homeless Partnering Strategy. The Connecting Youth Project is hosted by Safer Futures with Safe Youth Cowichan and is funded by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.