Local homeless youth have few resources in Mission, Barry McLeod told district council Jan. 20.
They avoid places frequented by homeless adults, instead seeking help at youth centres in other cities. When they don’t find the help they need, they risk ending up in dangerous situations.
The Mission Youth Homelessness Committee (MYHC) has been meeting for eight months to find a local solution. McLeod, a committee member, presented the plan to district councillors: open a youth resource centre in Mission.
“Our kids are going to other communities to get help with something that maybe we need to be looking at providing ourselves,” he said.
Twelve Mission youth stayed at Abbotsford’s Cyrus Centre in the last six months. Another four stayed at Iron Horse Youth Clinic in Maple Ridge last year, while 17 Mission youth were turned away.
Those without a stable home are spending nights camping, couch surfing, in drug houses, flop houses, and anywhere else they can find a place to sleep, according to McLeod.
Because youth tend to remain hidden during annual homeless counts, exactly how many youth are on Mission’s streets is unknown. Estimates are anywhere between 12 and 25 people.
“It changes all the time. But there are youth 18 and under living on the streets,” said McLeod, who is a youth worker with Mission Youth Unlimited.
A 2011 homeless count by the Fraser Valley Regional District found 54 homeless people in Mission, down from 100 in 2008. Another homeless count is planned for March. This winter season, the Haven in the Hollow shelter in Mission is usually full, with 15 adult men and five women staying overnight. Another 10 have been staying on mats when the temperature dips below zero overnight, as it did this past week.
The MYHC surveyed local homeless youth to understand their top five needs.
Number one was a place to get cleaned up, where youth could get a shower, because, as McLeod said, “the rest of life doesn’t work very well if you’re dirty.” Second was access to laundry and third was healthy, warm meals.
Fourth was non-judgmental adults to talk to.
“They actually want that, and that’s good news for youth workers. We are wanting to be there to help them, but they also want that kind of support from people in their community,” said McLeod.
Shelter rounded out the list.
As a first step, the committee wants to open a resource facility here to provide showers, laundry, meals, resources, and connections. McLeod noted that the Cyrus Centre started much the same way, first opening as a resource centre before offering beds. Down the line, the committee wants to offer extreme weather emergency shelter spaces, a short-term shelter and youth housing options.
There are various community resources for the homeless in Mission, such as meals, support groups, and counselling from the Mission Friendship Centre and Hope Central. The latter, for instance, feeds 40–60 people at each of its 12 weekly meals.
“But the issue is, a lot of the youth won’t go where the adults are because there’s risk for them to be hanging around older homeless people,” said McLeod.
The committee’s idea for a dedicated youth-centric facility has several member agencies interested, including Mission Community Services, Ministry of Children and Family Development, Mission Friendship Centre, Youth Unlimited, and Fraser House Society, according to McLeod. Cyrus Centre likes the idea, while various churches have offered support.
McLeod and the committee will also eventually need support from district council and staff, as well as the business community and service clubs. Funding will come from grants, donations, gifts in-kind, and fundraisers.
“A lot of these things have been offered already, and we’re now in a place of trying to figure out, ‘How do we move forward with all these ideas and even the funds that are starting to come in?” said McLeod. “We really feel it’s an important thing, because these youth can’t speak for themselves. You won’t even find them, probably, if you went out to the street looking for them. They’re hiding in places…and they’re not identifying.”