Kitchener youth shelter looking for people to house homeless teens

OneRoof Youth Services is asking residents to open up their homes to homeless youth through the organization's new Host Homes program.

The Host Homes program hopes to match youth with a temporary home, rather than have them go to a shelter

About 6,000 Canadian youth are homeless, according the Push For Change, a national organization behind the "SleepOut Challenge," aimed at raising funds to tackle youth homelessness. (The Gathering Place / Facebook)

OneRoof Youth Services is hoping people in Waterloo region will open their doors to youth who are at risk of being homeless through a new program.

The Host Homes program started in early December and the goal is to match youth with a temporary home, rather than have them go to a shelter.

"When youth enter the shelter system, there is risk inherited with that and if we can divert them ahead of time, then they're in a place where we can work with them and they are safe and secure," Silvia Allard, a co-ordinator of the Host Homes program at OneRoof, told CBC News.

Youth between the ages of 16 and 25 would live at the homes between 30 to 60 days, Allard said. During that time, she and another program co-ordinator would work with them to find a permanent home, whether that's back with their family, with another relative or a friend.

In 2017, OneRoof helped 655 youth in Waterloo Region, 250 more than in 2016.

OneRoof provides youth with numerous services daily, such as meals, showers and clothing donations, but the shelter only has 17 beds available, which not enough to meet the present demand, Allard said.

"By providing host home families, with a place for [youth] to go, that enables us to get them out of the shelter system," she said. 

OneRoof Youth Services on Queen Street in Kitchener provides youth with meals, showers and clothing donations and has 17 beds available. (Google Street View)

Host Home program better helps youth

Nationally, 20 per cent of the homeless population are made up of youth between the ages of 13 and 24, said John Ecker, director of research and evaluation at the Canadian Observatory of Homelessness (COH).

He said systematic issues, such as leaving the foster care system and conflict at home, are some of the elements that contribute to homelessness in young people and that the issue requires a different response.

"I think it's important to get folks to know that this isn't your stereotypical view of what homelessness may look like," he said.

He said the "host home" model has worked well in other cities in the U.S. and the York and Halton regions. It's also an effective program that has helped youth stay out of shelters, while also having a positive impact on youth.

"We found that young people are generally satisfied with the program, both in terms of the host home and the supports that are received from host home workers," Ecker said, adding host families also benefit as some create a positive relationship with youth.

Allard said locally, there has been a large influx of families and individuals interested in becoming host homes. 

Over the next three years, COH will provide research and evaluation supports to OneRoof as the program continues.