Homeless youth fill Edmonton shelters

A growing number of homeless young people in Edmonton is pushing youth shelters to the limit.
Harry McKenzie shoots pool at the Armoury Youth Centre. He says young homeless people are finding it harder to find a place to sleep in Edmonton. (CBC)

A growing number of homeless young people in Edmonton is pushing youth shelters to the limit.

"It's one thing I've really noticed in the last year and a half," says Harry McKenzie, 21, who finds himself competing with younger people for mats in the youth dorm at the Hope Mission.

"Now that the weather has been getting a little colder I've noticed that it's been getting a lot more full."

A homeless count revealed this week that the number of homeless children in Edmonton almost doubled last year even as the number of homeless people overall dropped.

The count, done in October 2012, found the number of homeless children and youth almost doubled from 123 to 223.

Up to 55 young people have been sleeping at the mission, one of the few shelters with space left.

It's the same story at the youth emergency shelter, said Sue Keating, associate executive director.

"Imagine having to tell a young person at the door we can't take you tonight - it's the hardest thing our staff have to do."

The youth shelter fills its 16 beds every night and had hoped to add 10 more beds, said Keating.

"We optimistically opened a second dorm a couple of years ago but our finances simply don't allow us to staff or operate that many beds overnight," she said. "Our 16 beds in our shelter program fill up pretty quickly after 9 o'clock."

The province said it's already investing in shelters and front-line agencies to ensure young people always have a place to go.

The province spent almost $20 million in shelters in the past two years, including $4 million to address youth homelessness specifically.

It also said it is just beginning work on a youth homeless strategy.

With files from CBC's Gareth Hampshire