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Exploring the transition out of youth homelessness

Little is known about how youth get off the street, nor how to properly support the process 

by Sarah Slaunwhite

Come to Cafe Scientifique on July 14 and learn about the difficult path out of youth homelessness.  Illustration by Sara Fin - http://www.asylumsquad.com  http://www.thepsychosisdiaries.com
Come to Cafe Scientifique on July 14 and learn about the difficult path out of youth homelessness. Illustration by Sara Fin - http://www.asylumsquad.com http://www.thepsychosisdiaries.com

Things can be very difficult for homeless youth who have decided to leave their old life behind.

You can learn more about this during a Cafe Scientifique on July 14. Café Scientifique allows people to learn about a variety of topics in a non-academic and inclusive environment.

The event will be facilitated by people who have researched the path out of homelessness.

“How young people become homeless is what has been covered by media and research, but even that has fallen off the radar. This is still an issue,” Sean Kidd explained in a recent interview.

Kidd is one of a team of passionate researchers who decided to follow youth leaving their homeless life behind in both Toronto and Halifax in order to better understand their experiences. Other researchers engaged in the project will also attend the café session.

Jeff Karabanow, one of Kidd's colleagues, told the Halifax Media Co-op that this is one of the few studies out there that follows youth making efforts to leave homelessness over the course of a year.

Young people who are homeless have yet to reach their full growth potential. Often, homeless youth have no experience in finding a home, paying rent, or landing a job.

Even when youth seek help through social support services, the resources available are not always adequate.

A common theme is the lack of support once homeless kids have left the direct care by support workers and are struggling to make it on their own.

Also, homeless youth at times age out of child protection services, a set back in terms of any connections they may have made with a support worker.

Many homeless youth describe the trigger to finally change their situation as an experience of trauma on the streets, sheer boredom of surviving, getting more responsibility such as a partner or a baby, or just being ready and feeling done, said Karabanow.

Kidd noted that youth often think that once they get housing and a job they will be set. “They go through a lot to get these things but are suddenly lonely and isolated without any social support,” said Kidd.

As a result leaving street life behind is generally a cyclical pattern of failures and trying to transition again and again.

In addition to the barriers youth trying to exit street life face, there are also difficult compromises to be made when choosing to exit street life in the first place.

Youth recognize that leaving the streets also means leaving street environments and saying goodbye to their street friends.

“How do you share with a population [street culture or friends] that has supported you, regardless of how exploitative those people may be, that you no longer want to live this lifestyle?” asks Karabanow.

According to Kidd, inviting old friends into their new homes can be the cause of these young people being kicked out again, putting them back where they started.

“They have left a previously entrenched street existence and are now in a different environment. They sense that they don’t fit in either sphere . . . they are in between” said Karabanow.

Yet even those who manage to find housing and begin their journey away from street life, , for the first of fifth time, experience fear that it will not last.

“While this is a population that tends to be viewed as ‘success stories’ they are still very fragile and feel unstable emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Even though they have places to stay, they still feel fear that something could happen and they may not have that tomorrow,” commented Karabanow.

“Transitions take a long time. Many take years to be self-sustained. Folks who did well tended to have a core support person with unconditional love” said Tyler Frederick, another of the researchers.

This support was most commonly a family member. Over half of the young people in the study have had some reconnection with family members. “As they got more comfortable and got more on their feet they felt less shame and were more able to reach out,” said Frederick.

The July 14 Café scientifique will open up the discussion around the issues youth are facing as many stories are still left untold.

What does this research say to you?

Where have we left cracks for youth to fall through?

What are our responsibilities as a community and how can we best help the transition?

Café Scientifique’s “Exploring the transition out of youth homelessness” will be held on Sunday, July 14 from 7:00 – 8:30 pm on 1313 Hollis Street in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

RSVP: tnaylor@dal.ca


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