British Columbia

Count reveals hidden problem of youth homelessness in Kamloops

The first-ever homeless count specifically targeting youth in Canada has identified 56 homeless youth — a dramatic increase in the six to eight homeless young people the city thought it had.

Community to work on creating a 'safe suite' to house youth with serious issues

During the week of Oct 13 to 21, 2016, a youth homeless count was conducted in Kamloops with the help of 40 local organizations. (bchomeless.com)

The first-ever homeless count specifically targeting youth in Canada has identified 56 homeless youth — a dramatic increase in the six to eight homeless young people the city thought it had.

Another 73 reported that they had experienced an episode of homelessness over the past year. The count was conducted last October in Kamloops.

Previous homeless counts, that reported only six to eight homeless youth in the community, used a point-in-time survey, where volunteers hit the streets and reported back on all the homeless individuals that could be identified during one day.

 "These current numbers are very powerful," said Katherine McParland, the youth homelessness manager with Interior Community Health Services.

 As a result, she says she will work on creating a "safe suite" in Kamloops to house four youth.

"It would be for youth with very complex mental health or substance-use issues."

Katherine McParland is the youth homelessness manager with Interior Community Services and is with the 'A Way Home' committee to end youth homelessness. (Jennifer Chrumka/CBC)

'Much of the issue is hidden'

Of the 56 homeless youth, 19 had no shelter, whatsoever.

"They were on the streets. They were not accessing emergency shelter and did not have an option to couch surf," said McParland. "What we know about youth homelessness is that it's so unique and much of the issue is hidden." 

Traci Anderson, executive director of the Kamloops Boys and Girls Club, said the numbers are shocking.

"I was actually quite surprised that the number was that high ... It was quite shocking to learn, especially that 19 youth were unsheltered," she said.

Creating 'safe suites'

A total of $40,000 has already been raised by local businesses but much more is still needed to build and staff the suite.

"It costs a lot of dollars to support these youth," said Anderson.

"But the gap of the safe suite is integral, and we need to fill this gap in our community. It is the one piece that is holding us back from the hardest-to-house youth from having access to housing."

The "bum tunnels" near the Kamloops Curling Club, a popular site where youth seek shelter. (Jennifer Chrumka/CBC)

The week-long count was done in part using survey results compiled by 40 different community organizations, during the week of Oct 13 to 21.

"We know we did not identify every youth experiencing homelessness in Kamloops," said McParland. but she expects the data will provide a benchmark to work from.

Cardboard bed found along Peterson Creek in Kamloops, another spot homeless youth frequent. (Katherine McParland)

'Every hour was a struggle of survival'

McParland is driven to take on this issue because after aging out of foster care at 19, she became homeless herself.

"When I was living on the street, every hour was a struggle for survival. It was hard to even look past the next day and see any sort of permanency without having a roof over your head or having your basic needs met."

Graffiti from a Kamloops youth that reads: "It's never too late to become something you might have been." (Katherine McParland)

A woman who frequently drove by McParland on the street pulled over one day, drove her to a motel and paid for a week's stay.

"That was the first time I had housing in a very long time," McParland said. "What that did, just even having the opportunity to fill a little motel fridge with those basic things, provided some stability."

That was the first step to where she is today and it inspired the vision of a "safe suite."

McParland hopes the more robust homeless numbers will shine a light on the issue and will be a wakeup call to the community.

"If we really, as a community, want to become like family to these children, we all have a role."

now