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Civic Impact

Momentum building for youth homeless plan in York Region

If we tend to think of homelessness as primarily an urban problem, a new report on youth homelessness in the York Region shows how the problem affects all kinds of communities. And how the solutions also be outside the core.
“Too many young people have to leave the community because they and their families are not getting the supports they need,” states Leaving Home, a report released last week, based on interviews with 60 young people living in York Region. “When a young person leaves their community and moves to the streets of Toronto or another big city, the consequences can be dire. Health worsens and the risk of victimization and exploitation increases, making it harder and harder to escape homelessness.”
The report, authored by five researchers under the guidance of lead author Stephen Gaetz, suggests that the region may be particularly well suited to deal with homelessness before young people move to the “big city.” Schools, peer support systems and community organizations can come up with close-to-home solutions that may be better suited to getting young people back on track and into stable lives. Political will can make up for the existing lack of resources.
“You can go from being stuck to being innovative really quickly,” says Gaetz, an anthropology professor at York University. “If you look at the communities that done the best at homelessness in Canada, if you look at them 10 years ago, they look like just any other place. That can happen in York Region, too.”
Gaetz says there’s growing awareness of the problem of youth homelessness—and a growing willingness to do something about it. He’s optimistic that major players like the United Way of York Region are prepared to work collaboratively to come up with a plan to prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness in the region. The report calls for an integrated approach with coordinated engagement by all levels of government, a positive youth development model and increased information sharing amongst those working on the issue.
With a population of more than one million spread across nine suburban and rural municipalities, York Region provides an interesting case study. The region has only 115 shelter beds compared to Toronto’s 3,800 beds—8.9 beds per 100,000 people compared to 710 beds.
“York Region doesn’t have a robust emergency response in place, but if you want to look at opportunities, it creates a blank slate for what to do,” says Gaetz. “In lots of cities, there can be resistance from those use to doing things one way. York Region can build on strengths in the community without having to undo things that have been problematic in the past. I see leaders all over the region who want to do something differently.”
That might include better support for families, assistance for people with mental health and substance abuse problems and more youth employment opportunities.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Stephen Gaetz
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