A Way Home is a program supporting youth who age out of our provincial foster-care system.
The agency recently organized its annual Campout to End Youth Homelessness to bring awareness to the plight of youth who, upon their 19th birthday, must fend for themselves, with few effective tools for surviving in the adult world.
These particular youth have been raised within a foster-care system that provides the essentials of life — such as food, shelter, clothing and some medical attention — but all too often with little affection amid a tattered pattern of care.
For instance, it is not uncommon for a 19-year-old ward to have experienced multiple foster homes with staff rather than parents; these children have been managed and controlled, but not nurtured. Many of these youth are burdened with the expectation that they are now an adult and should be able to make their way in the world. They tend to lack a positive self-image and any real self-esteem. They have only rudimentary skills and many become homeless.
The awareness of this plight needs to be heightened among those of us who are not from broken homes and who can draw upon the social and personal assets inherent in a stable home life. Most of us take these assets for granted. What is not taken for granted is a warm bunk when you participate in a December campout.
In support of creating a necessary awareness, the Kiwanis Club of Kamloops is still collecting pledges for one of its members who spent a night outside in aid of the A Way Home program.
Many of us live comfortably and don’t understand what it takes to survive on the street, to not have a kitchen or a door you can lock. It is hard to be proactive when you wonder where you will sleep tonight and when you have to guard your belongings at all times.
Part of the awareness is to recognize the social stigmas our society places upon homeless people. We tend to see them as mentally ill and addicted. We shun them and let police deal with their lack of social graces, the very graces we take for granted. This is a larger social malaise and not a criminal issue.
Our current societal norms and structures favour some, but not all. It is time to grasp that for all our social programs, there are many gaps in the care it takes to raise a viable citizen.
It is time to grasp that living on the street requires a set of survival skills most of us do not have. Perhaps we can learn to admire how homeless folks can make it on the street when most us couldn’t. It is time to see talented survivors rather than derelicts. It is time to support a political will for addressing the full continuity of care it takes to raise a contributing, responsible citizen. It is time to create better outcomes for those who graduate from foster care.
The Kiwanis campout will raise a few dollars for the A Way Home program. This is one program only and will meet a few significant needs, but the big picture still has holes. We are not addressing the full magnitude of what we are up against. We do not see this in terms of social investing and we fail to appreciate the wasted human capital languishing on our streets.
Sleeping outside on a cold December night to raise awareness is only a start. Kiwanis is happy to participate and will accept pledges until Dec. 31. Please contact our treasurer at 250-374-2316 should you wish to contribute. Search online for Kiwanis Club of Kamloops to see photos and more information on our website and Facebook pages.
In memory of Katherine McParland, the late executive director of A Way Home Kamloops.
Peter Mutrie is a longtime member of the Kiwanis Club of Kamloops, which can be found online by clicking here.