A first-of-its-kind grassroots networking event has a youth social agency in Kamloops confident it has the ear of government, with a summary report forthcoming.
Staff from A Way Home Kamloops Society, who have experienced homelessness in their youth, pitched solutions for ending youth homelessness to provincial government representatives and service providers recently at a virtual conference they organized.
Aging out of foster care, substance use, mental health, cultural supports, LGBTQ2S+ experiences, education and employment were up for discussion via Zoom meetings.
“If even this only plants the seed for change, that’s incredible because there’s still more to come,” said Kira Cheeseborough said, peer navigator for A Way Home Kamloops.
A two-day summit with provincial representatives — as originally planned prior to the pandemic — is still expected to take place sometime in the near future, when COVID-19 restrictions ease.
At the virtual event, A Way Home Kamloops youth advisors stressed the need to ensure no youth ages out of foster care before safe, appropriate housing and after-care supports are available as a key solution to ending youth homelessness. Another recommendation was to create a provincial plan.
“If we can prevent youth from experiencing homelessness, it doesn’t become a pathway to adult homelessness,” Cheeseborough said.
The three-hour virtual event drew 57 attendees, with representatives from BC Housing, the Attorney General’s office, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, including Minister Mitzi Dean, and the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, including Minister Sheila Malcolmson.
Cheeseborough said a report of key findings and feedback from attendees will be made public in mid-March.
Minister Dean said the MCFD is working to improve services and supports for those who are transitioning from government care, noting input from youth and young adults will play a key role in shaping those services.
“Hearing directly from young people is critical to better understanding how we can meet their unique needs and I am grateful to everyone who shared their story,” Dean said.
Youth Advisor Mel Hedch told KTW she is happy they were able to have the ear of key decision-makers in the field as it means they have a greater chance of improving the situations of homeless youth in B.C.
“It was so exciting to have them and I look forward to, in the future, the different summit and conference we’ll have, where we’ll be expanding so much than we already have,” Hedch said.
Last year, A Way Home Kamloops organized what was to be a localized event, dubbed the Light The Way Youth Homelessness Conference, but it was expanded in scope to include provincial representatives — something Cheeseborough credits to the work of the organization’s late executive director, Katherine McParland.
The event, however, was delayed last summer due to COVID-19 restrictions, which is why the virtual Youth Homelessness Preliminary Summit proceeded this year.
“The preliminary summit was an opportunity for the youth advisors to be celebrated in their resiliency and strength, not only through COVID, but in the tragic passing of Katherine McParland. She was an incredible leader,” Cheeseborough said.
McParland, 33, died suddenly in Kamloops on Dec. 5, 2020.