We have discussed homelessness in St. Albert but in general terms, and have not done justice to the significant number of homeless youth that call St. Albert home. One question we are frequently asked is, are these youth from St. Albert or have they moved in from Edmonton? The kids we see were born and raised in St. Albert and would like to stay in their home environment. In St. Albert, Community and Social Development provides direct support to youth and young adults through The Collective on St. Thomas Street. They reported they supported 25 homeless youth in 2017. These were young people who were couch surfing and living rough – which means they had no safe, permanent housing.
It is important to ensure that the appropriate supports are available that would help to mitigate the issues faced by homeless youth before they become entrenched in life on the streets. The popular belief is that the kids are on the street because they don’t want to live within the rules at home but this does not apply to all homeless youth. Many of the kids are facing or have faced abuse and childhood trauma and feel they have no other choice but to leave the home. Issues facing these youth may include violence, lack of financial knowledge, incomplete education, medical needs, substance abuse, the lack of essential life skills, and, in some cases, the lack of a positive role model, and the lack of a safe place or the feeling of safety, all of which put them at risk for exploitation and negatively impacting their mental health.
What appears to be at the crux of the matter is the inability to address the core mental health issues that often lead to addictions. We need to be able to have the supports to get the youth into treatment in a much more timely fashion. The mental health system is a challenging place to navigate and often there are long waiting times before the kids can get into treatment. Once they are in they receive great care but the long wait times may result in the youth just giving up on the idea of treatment. Being homeless will adversely affect their self-worth and their confidence that could help them succeed so having the coordinated, appropriate supports in place that can help the youth to understand that they are important and do have the potential to succeed is critical.
What is needed, and what we have in St. Albert, is a multi-system collaboration because no one agency can “do it all”. What we don’t have is a housing continuum that can take the youth from an emergent situation to moving into a supportive living environment through to independent living. Everyone needs the stability of a safe roof over their heads before they can consider getting their life in order.
We have some great supports in place and people very willing to help these young people, but there is still work to be done.
Suzan Krecsy is the director of the St. Albert Food Bank.