Youth Opportunities Unlimited is looking for sites to make a shelter dedicated to London’s homeless youth. The city of London and Youth Opportunities Unlimited are looking for a 8-10 thousand square foot, one storey building to hold up to 30 youth. Youth Opportunites Unlimited’s project director for the shelter, Mitra Foroutan, says that they are looking for a site away from the downtown core. “There are youth who are uncomfortable coming downtown, some of them don’t feel safe there, they’re exposed to drugs, violence and sometimes trafficking.”
Foroutan says that it’s difficult to give a specific statistic on how many homeless youth there are in the city because “the numbers change by night, you never know who’s couch surfing, who’s sleeping under a bridge, we couldn’t search every squrare inch of London to see where everyone is. It’s a number that most cities don’t capture, what we capture instead is how many youth are accessing services.” The Youth Action Centre, operated by YOU offers youth a safe environment where they can find food, free laundry, a shower and supports to help them out of homelessness.
From the statistics that they do get from services in the city, Foroutan says that the number of homeless youth is growing disproportionately to the number of adults experiencing homelessness. This may be because even though youth are aware of shelters in the city, they are uncomfortable with being mixed with adults. Foroutan says that is because the reasons why adults and youth go into homelessness are different. Adults tend to go into homelessness because of depression or other health issues, broken marriages, or job loss. With youth it can because they don’t have a safe space to stay, have no parents, are in the foster system. Foroutan says “some of them don’t even consider themselves homeless because they are continually couch surfing.”
What makes this site so unique, is that it is a Housing First shelter. The point of a housing first shelter is to remove conditions on what would allow a homeless individual the right to shelter, such as combating addictions or mental illnesses. This ensures that they are in a home with the supports to reflect on their homelessness after they’re settled. Supports can also include job and resume advice. The goal is to first welcome youth with food, a bed and a safe environment to stay but Foroutan says they also will be working with them to get them housed within 30 days.
The best advice Foroutan can recommend to help youth be less afraid to ask for help is to be a community that sees them as equals and supports their struggle and desire to get out of homelessness.