The first homeless youth count in Kamloops is being conducted this year with the results expected to be public in February.
“In 2013 there was a survey done and they identified 292 youth experiencing homelessness,” said Katherine McParland, a youth homelessness manager with Interior Community Services and the creator of A Way Home. “In the same year a street survey identified 20 youth who were sleeping outside every night.”
It isn’t easy to determine the exact number of homeless youth, however Stan Dueck, the executive director of New Life Community said, “in a lot of cases they may be homeless, but either couch surfing or staying with friends on and off. They’re a lot harder to find.”
Often when youth age out of foster care at the age of 19, they find themselves with nowhere else to go and end up on the streets. Although Kamloops has services for these young people, the organizations were fragmented in their structure, making it difficult for them to receive all the different services needed.
McParland has dealt with the situation first hand.
“As a youth, I grew up in foster care and when I turned 19 I aged out of the system,” McParland said. “At 19, the system shuts the door on youth. They lose their housing and are just given papers for income assistance. Over 3/4 of these youth end up homeless,” McParland said.
At a young age, McParland had to resort to a life on the streets. While doing so, she reconnected with 30 other foster siblings to find that they were in similar situations. Realizing this was not an individual fault and instead a failure of the system, she knew something needed to be done. Years laters, after finding housing and graduating from TRU with a Human Service diploma and bachelor’s degree in social work, McParland gathered a group of professionals together to start discussing possible changes. At this time the city of Kamloops was also one of five communities chosen all across Canada to receive funding for a youth homeless plan.
With the city’s action plan and McParland’s group of passionate individuals, A Way Home was created.
Since then, it has skyrocketed. Launched in May 2015, the organization has housed 92 kids aged 13 to 24.
Their success can be credited to a completely new approach. Instead of having several agencies with individual services, A Way Home has combined these organizations to work together in helping homeless youth. As a result, the organization is split up into different sectors offering prevention, housing and support.
“For prevention, their focus is preventing youth that are aging out of foster care from ever experiencing homelessness,” McParland said. “The supports team has done a lot of awareness with educational seminars, and housing is where it’s really taken off and been recognized across the country.”
A Way Home has several different housing organizations working together, all offering different homes specific to individual youth’s needs. Youth are also given specific services they need.
“It’s really to help youth stabilize themselves from their addictions or mental health issues. We put all the services and all these agencies together to give them support. They might need a counsellor or a cultural worker, so we get a team from different agencies that will actually follow them through housing,” McParland said.
A Way Home also assists youth with their education and future employment, helping them every step of the way to becoming a completely self-sufficient member of the community.
“The goal is to act like family,” McParland said. “It’s so amazing having so many people on board to help, it just shows how much our community really cares about these kids.”
A Way Home encourages the public to get involved with the movement in any from of contribution possible.