British Columbia

New housing helps B.C. kids aging out of care, but advocates say more needs to be done

New housing for kids transitioning out of foster care have opened in Surrey, B.C., but advocates say there's still a lot to be done to help young adults aging out of the system.

More than 700 youth age out of B.C.'s foster care system each year, many of them ending on the street

These two new housing units are now part of a total of five units available to youth aging out of B.C.'s foster care system. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Two new housing units for children transitioning out of foster care have opened in Surrey, B.C., but advocates say there's still a lot of work to be done to help the hundreds of vulnerable young adults who age out of the system. 

SOS Children's Village now has a total of five transition housing units for former foster children. The two new units were unveiled Saturday afternoon. 

"These suites represent a continuum. We don't believe children age out. At 19, they don't stop being children, or stop needing support," said Douglas Dunn, the organization's executive director. 

Those in need of the units get to stay there for up to a year, during which time SOS also teaches them life skills like financial management and how to find a job. 

More than 700 teenagers age out of foster care in B.C. each year, which Dunn says puts them at risk for homelessness.

"Often, foster children have been moved many times while they're in care, and they're just not given the grounding and preparation they need for an independent life."

Surveys show 40 per cent of youth living on the streets have been through foster care. 

'We need more support for our youth'

NDP MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, Melanie Mark, says the the province's child welfare system is to blame.

"Many young people are aging out of care with mental health issues because they're going from one place, to the next, to the next, a new school, a new home, a new way of being," Mark said.

"Young people in care need stability, and they're not getting it. They haven't gotten it for decades." 

The instability of housing for children in foster care has been heavily criticized.

Last year, Alex Gervais, 18, took his own life while under the care of the system. He was living in a hotel, alone, at the time and prior to that had been moved 17 times.

Metis teen Alex Gervais died after he jumped from the open window of a hotel in Abbotsford while in xyolhemeylh's care. (Dylan Pelley/Facebook)

Dunn hopes the new transition homes will add a bit more of that stability to a troubled system, but he's pushing for more to be done. He thinks kids should be allowed to remain in foster care until they're 24.

"From all levels of levels of government, from all levels of society, we need more support for our youth. This is not a matter of some public expenditure or activity, this is investment in youth who are the future of our society."

The Liberal MLA for Surrey-Panorama, where the new housing units were built, refused to comment on the matter. 

With files from Jon Hernandez