Youth homelessness is all around us… often where you least expect it.
For those of you who think that youth homeless doesn’t exist in York Region, I’m here to tell you that it is likely right in front of you and you just aren’t noticing.
Why? Because in York Region, homeless youth don’t fit the typical stereotype many of us think about. I and several other community leaders learned this first-hand last night.
Several of us, including York Regional Police Chief Eric Joliffe and Markham Fire Chief Bill Snowball, spent last night in the shoes of a homeless young person through our participation in the 360°Experience, a fundraising event for 360°kids.
Each participant was provided with a typical scenario that kids in this area without a home encounter. We then had to live that scenario from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., many of us with nothing more than a bus ticket, tarp and a small amount of money for a coffee.
I was given the scenario of coffee shop-hopping to stay dry and warm. Something that many kids do. They know the closing schedule of all local shops and make it from coffee shop to coffee shop, trying not to be kicked out prematurely for loitering.
Another common situation bus napping was something experienced last night. Bus napping is a technique used by many youth who do not have a place to stay or do not feel comfortable staying in shelters. Youth will purchase a bus ticket and ride that single bus all night long until the route ends. Many times they are kicked off the bus before night’s end.
My biggest challenge last night was to stay warm in the frigid weather presented during the night.
The scenarios are just some of what an estimated 300 kids face each night in York Region.
Unlike the urban centres, these young people are often not homeless due to poverty. Many kids are from middle class homes that end up homeless for a number of reasons.
Take these common scenarios for instance: a young boy who recently disclosed to his family that he is homosexual and his parents disapproval of this, kicked him out of the house; A new young immigrant to Canada who arrived with his single mother who after a couple years passed away and left him with no maternal family in Canada; Someone suffering from abuse at home is looking for safety so they leave but have no plan once they are gone; A teen who is fighting with their parents as a result of an undiagnosed mental health issue or learning disability is kicked out and has nowhere else to live.
Many of these kids are still in school. Often they sleep on their friend’s couches, moving frequently from house to house so not to draw attention to their situation. They work hard at looking the same as their friends and are careful to avoid letting anyone know about their circumstance. After a while, once couches become less abundant many are forced into the types of scenarios that we experienced last night.
It can take less than 10 seconds to become homeless from average everyday life circumstances. 360°kids ensures that there are resources available to help our young people when unfortunate circumstances do arise so they can get back on their feet quickly.
Over the past seven years the 360°Experience has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars that get reinvested back into the programs and services that 360°kids provide to youth . While this is a great start, much more will need to be raised in the coming months to help equip the region with the services needed to respond to what is often a hidden and greatly misunderstood issue.
How do I register:
Join us on March 5th 2020 and help support a worthy cause. Sign up as a team or individual participant here: 360°Experience 2020 Registration.
Be part of the solution and help make youth homelessness a visible issue. With your help we can help prevent, reduce and eliminate displaced youth in York Region.