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'Hidden homeless' among those in Kamloops youth homeless count

At least 19 young people were sleeping on the streets of Kamloops last fall, when the city's first count of homeless youth began. The count, conducted from Oct. 13 to Oct.
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At least 19 young people were sleeping on the streets of Kamloops last fall, when the city's first count of homeless youth began.

The count, conducted from Oct. 13 to Oct. 21, found 129 Kamloopsians between the ages of 13 and 24 who had experienced homelessness, 56 of whom were homeless at that time.

Of those homeless 56, half were what report writers Katherine McParland and John-Paul Baker call "hidden homeless" -- young people who might be crashing on friends' couches or in hospital or treatment facilities with nowhere to go once they leave those institutions.

"These are the kids that have long been ignored in our community," McParland said.

While there is an annual homeless count in the city that aims to count people of all ages, it focuses on people living on the street. Members of Kamloops' A Way Home committee, which conducted the youth homeless count as part of its focus on youth homelessness, said that doesn't reflect the experience of many young people struggling to find housing.

More than half of the youth who were homeless -- 59 per cent, or 33 people -- were aboriginal. Three reported they were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Boys outnumbered girls, with 31 males to 21 females (several respondents didn't answer the question). Of those counted, 40 were between the ages of 19 and 24 and 15 were ages 13 to 18. Slightly less than half the youth over the age of 19 reported they had aged out of the foster-care system.

Foster care was common across currently and previously homeless youth, with more than half of respondents in both categories reporting time spent in care or a group home.

McParland -- herself a former youth in care who experienced homelessness after leaving the system -- said the findings illustrate the need for better supports for youth who age out of care, but also show the kind of disruptions beyond their control that young people often experience on their way to homelessness.

Reasons youth gave for losing housing included abuse (21 per cent), family conflict (41 per cent) and addictions and substance use (43 per cent) -- which the A Way Home committee noted could either refer to the youths themselves or another resident in the home.

McParland said members of the committee will study the data further, with an eye to making recommendations and improving the survey for 2017.

One suggestion likely to come from the survey is for no-barrier housing for the city's most challenged youth, which would offer support services, but place no conditions on staying in the residence.