Youth Homelessness - Moving from Emergency Intervention to Prevention

Published January 30, 2019 20:59

The Emergency Downtown Youth Shelter is safe place that is open for young people who have nowhere else to be. Our staff work with these young people to figure out what they need, and support them as they get where the need to be. The Youth Shelter is open every night, overnight and closes at 10:00am. There is always a staff available, a safe space, entertainment, food and most importantly a place to rest their head. The goal is to ensure homeless youth have a safe place to sleep until they can find permanent housing. 

The Emergency Youth Shelter welcomed an average of seven kids per night in the fall of 2017. “It didn’t feel right, How can there be this many homeless young people staying in emergency shelters?” Sarah MacKinnon, Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs –Youth Housing Director asked “away from family and on their own.” At the Youth Shelter they tend not to do well, young people tend to have high anxiety and sometimes aren’t able to sleep while in the shelter. Once young people are in the shelter they face a lot more risks than they would face if they were in a safe home environment. The staff have since learned about a process called Shelter Diversion and we are using it.

Shelter Diversion means that our staff transform into coaches and help find a solution that young people and their supports may not have realized they had. For instance when a youth accesses the shelter, the youth are in crisis, no one can do great problem solving when they are in crisis. Our staff assists and coach young people and their families to find a solution for temporary housing that is in the natural support system such as extended family member, family friends, neighbours or even old baby sitters. These support systems provide them with a little rest and separation during conflict. Our staffs then support them as they figure out how to overcome the conflict, ideally bringing them back home.

By using shelter diversion which was started in October 2017 the Youth Shelter started to see huge success. In January 2018 staff participated in training for Family and Natural Support Frame work and by March 2018 reduced their numbers to an average of five youth per night. Learning how to be more successful when working with families, by October 2018 they were sitting with an average of three young people staying overnight, In November 2018 one and in December 2018 an average of .5 per night! “We are doing really well and are really excited about it” stated Sarah Mackinnon. 

This doesn’t mean the staff and the Youth Shelter aren’t busy, because when young people face youth homelessness they still fall into crisis. The staff are working hard coaching, problem solving and working with young people and their families. Staff also recognize that once youth find housing they may still be at risk of relapsing back into homelessness. That is why the Youth Shelter has started doing a housing loss prevention service, where they call young people who have stayed at the shelter previously and ask “How’s it going? Is it stable? Do you need any support to keep it stable?” If they do, the staff gets them the support that they need while they are still in housing, rather than waiting for housing to break down. Their goal here is to reduce the backflow back into the shelter. “We have shifted the way we do things, shifted our perspective from emergency intervention to prevention and it’s worked, it’s worked very well.” 

If you would are impressed by the work being done at the Downtown Youth Shelters make a donation today and support their next training for Motivational Interviewing. This training will provide 20 housing staff with the ability to become certified in Motivational Interviewing – a counseling strategy that helps staff, coach young people and their families through stages and change, helping them makes meaningful change in their lives.   

The Downtown Youth Centre also provides drop-in programs Monday – Friday from 2:00pm till 8:45pm where they can partake in activities, life skill programs or just hangout and socialize; among other supports and services. We love talking about what we do so stop by to learn more.

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