A few weeks ago I tweeted about three things I learned while working on the Leaving Home report on Youth Homelessness in York Region. Oxana from the Homeless Hub promptly messaged me – and planted the idea that ‘this would be a good blog post’.  I have taken some time to expand on what I learned, though they aren’t to be mistaken with the ‘key findings’ of the report:

York Region sign

  1. Youth are resilient – but they need support.

    This was particularly clear when you listen to the details of the stories that youth told during interviews. For example. Chris, who is 20 reported the following:

    My dad had prostate cancer and my mom had diabetes so it was up to me and my sister…we had to take care of them most of the time. Then we kinda got depressed and started taking pills for that.

    While this might not seem immediately connected to the concept of resiliency – it’s this kind of narrative and story that demonstrates some of the struggles that youth go through – and adapt to.

    Before I started teaching my course on Homelessness, I spoke with a friend who had been street involved when he was younger. I asked him if there was anything that I should make sure to tell to my students – he said:

    Humans will adapt to anything, just put someone in an environment – and they’ll do what they have to do to survive.

    The question that becomes more important is – how do we get better at helping people thrive, not just survive. I feel strongly that the answer is to move towards a more coordinated system that draws, and strengthens, the resources that we already have in communities like York Region. This includes providing more funding to service agencies, as well as using schools, community centers and public libraries as partners to facilitate better access to services.

  2. Youth are likely to blame themselves for their experiences of homelessness- even if the situation has to do with physical or emotional abuse.

    Just over 20% of youth reported leaving home because of abuse, another 70% left home because of conflict with their parents.  Not all conflict is emotional abuse (I remember being a teenager, sorry mom) – but I would hazard a guess that some of that is, and may not be identified as such. 

    We know that victimization is much higher for youth experiencing homelessness. There is also a major need for addressing trauma for those who have experienced victimization while still at home.  This applies to the youth homeless sector in general – and not just York Region. Unfortunately – the way the sector is now, there are not enough resources to address trauma related to life experiences.

  3. Service providers are working very hard to help youth access services - but they need more resources.

    We know that integration is important. We often talk about the importance of having a system of care – or an integrated homelessness service system.  I think it’s important to keep in mind that service providers are working very hard within a system that isn’t integrated – maybe even harder than they should be for their own self-care and well-being. It’s hard not to when you’re so committed to helping the youth that access services with you.  This commitment showed in many different ways, but two stood out:

    - There was common sentiment from the executive director level that there was very low employee turnover in their agencies. This might be suprising to some, considering the amount of emotional energy it takes to provide services.

    - Workers had many examples of going out of their way to help youth access the services that they needed. One worker drove a youth to Hamilton to access a detox program that wasn’t available in York Region because the youth had come to say that they were interested in enrolling. We know with substance use, it’s terrible to turn someone away if they’re interested in working towards recovery.

    Speaking with service providers, and people involved in services, throughout York Region was inspiring.  There are solid groups of people that are working hard towards the goal of ending youth homelessness in York Region.  The service sector in York Region has, what I find to be, an unparalleled commitment to connecting, sharing resources and focusing on solutions to common problems that has allowed them to make great strides without having access to population proportionate funding. Imagine what could be done with sufficient funding.