Network of services deal with youth homelessness in Elgin County

Homelessness is big city problem — or so the myth goes. The sad reality is that homelessness can and does take place anywhere, including St. Thomas and Elgin County, where about 100 youth are without permanent housing at any given time. In fact, during the winter of 2011-2012, nearly half of the people who stayed at the Inn out of the Cold in St. Thomas were youth.

In response to this problem, the Community Action Network for Children & Youth Elgin has put together a Youth Homelessness Protocol, in which a number of community agencies coordinate services with the aim of housing youth and minimizing the impact that homelessness has on their lives. 211 South West Ontario is just one of the agencies involved in this collaborative approach to services, which , among other things, helps homeless youth reunite with their families or find alternative safe and affordable housing.

How it works
Under the protocol, homeless youth (including the “hidden homeless,” for example, those sleeping on a friend’s couch) can call an emergency hotline – the easy-to-remember 2-1-1 – any time of the day or night to find out about services they can access. Members of the public can also use the hotline to get help for a homeless youth.

If the youth is at immediate risk of harm, 211 will connect them to a crisis agency. Otherwise, youth will be referred to the Salvation Army, who will accompany them, if needed, to an emergency shelter. Those under 16 will be referred to Family and Children’s Services of St. Thomas and Elgin County instead.

After the youth is in the shelter, an assessment is done. They then meet with a YWCA Client Advocate, who will try to find out why they left home and will make referrals to short-term housing and other resources. If they want to reunite with their family, the advocate will assess whether other services are needed, such as individual, family or parent counselling; group work; parent education or mediation.

Referrals are a crucial part of the initiative as homeless youth need more than just housing support. According to the 2012 Responding to Youth Homelessness in St. Thomas & Elgin County report, before becoming homeless, most youth report an average of five “stressors,” including tension at home, compromised mental wellness or experimentation with substances. The report also notes that the majority of homeless youth drop out of high school, are more prone to injuries and more likely to develop medical conditions, and are at a higher risk of being assaulted, victimized and abused.

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