A shortage of youth-specific housing options force many homeless teenagers to have to look to unsafe situations, making them vulnerable to substance use, physical violence and exploitation, a new youth-led report has revealed.
The report, released Friday with support of B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, is calling on the province to make a clear plan to end youth homelessness in B.C.
Compiled by 16 youth leaders who call themselves Youth Against Homeless B.C., the report includes findings from interviews and surveys of more than 200 young people who have lived or are living on the streets.
“Currently, the magnitude of youth homelessness is still being uncovered with the development of youth homeless counts and, as of yet, there are no dedicated provincial or federal funding programs designed to meet the distinct needs of homeless youth,” the report reads. “Community organizations face a mighty struggle to find the necessary funding to provide the services youth need to exit homelessness.”
The report highlights a number of findings, broken into four categories: pathways into homelessness, impacts of being on the streets and the current barriers to accessing housing as well as cultural and health supports.
According to B.C.’s youth, areas in need of government focus include the “unsafe and non-responsive foster care system,” a shortage of youth-specific housing options and lengthy wait lists to access housing as well as a lack of information about social programs.
Other findings include youth physically risking their own health and being vulnerable to sexual exploitation and drug use in order to survive, as well as being unable to attend school or maintain a job due to not having a place to stay.
“To add to the complexity of the issue, communities across B.C. are confronted with interconnected challenges impacting youth homelessness such as the toxic drug supply, poverty and increased pressures on underfunded service providers to deal with these issues,” the report reads.
The report calls for provincial government to develop a distinct plan to end youth homelessness with the help of youth with lived experiences.
The 11 recommendations include increasing government income assistance rates and rental subsidies, creating housing that includes harm reduction designed for youth instead of adults, as well as increasing Indigenous-based and other cultural services available to youth.