Youth a priority as Metro Vancouver homeless count begins
"It’s youth who are the only population increasing in the homeless count — they’re primarily former foster children." — Sarah Stewart, Aunt Leah’s (FILE PHOTO)
About 900 volunteers fanned out Tuesday to count Metro Vancouver’s homeless population — a number that has grown since the surveys started in 2002.
A particularly troublesome area that Deb Bryant, chairwoman of the regional steering committee on homelessness, has set her sights on is youth. She said many transition out of foster care at 19 and struggle to live alone in the community.
“Any area where people are known to sleep or congregate will be covered,” Bryant said.
“We do it to get an estimate, an idea, of how many people are homeless. What kinds of people are homeless? What sorts of circumstances lead people to be sleeping on the street?”
In the 2011 survey, youth 13 to 24 years old represented 20% of the region’s homeless population of 2,650.
Sarah Stewart, program director at Aunt Leah’s — a support service for youth transitioning from foster care — said even “mainstream kids” are struggling to leave their homes in their mid-20s due to the high cost of living in the Lower Mainland.
“It’s quite different from what adults are facing. These are people that don’t have an adult figure in their life. No mother and no father … all of a sudden they’re thrown into an adult system that’s incredibly scary,” Stewart said.
She said foster youth typically leave their homes at 19 due to their foster parents’ contractual obligations. Some receive partial support from their former foster parents, but many never had stable homes — having moved an average of nine times by the time they began receiving support from Aunt Leah’s.
One foster child she helped had moved 32 times.
Stewart said some solutions would include increasing the age of transition to 21 and supporting post-secondary subsidies for foster youth.
The homeless count continues on Wednesday.