A new initiative has officially launched in Kelowna, aiming to help youth who may be at risk of becoming homeless.
The Upstream Project is a collaboration between A Way Home Kelowna, Journey Home, Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs, Arc Programs, The Bridge Youth and Family Services and Foundry Kelowna, among others, intending to prevent instead of responding to youth homelessness in the city.
This means identifying a young person’s needs and connecting them with services that will help them stay in school, get the counselling they may need and ultimately, help them be resilient young adults.
The model was first introduced in Australia, which resulted in a 40 per cent reduction in youth homelessness and a 20 per cent reduction in school drop-out rates.
Youth services director at the Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs, Sarah Mackinnon, said the program has three goals.
“(We want to) reduce homelessness, reduce school disengagement, and reduce young people living in mental health distress,” she said.
A survey will be sent out to Grade 8 students within the Central Okanagan School District (SD23) to help them identify teens at risk of homelessness who may otherwise fly under the radar. She said the reason they’re aiming to survey younger students is to implement preventative measures earlier.
“There’s a national survey on homelessness that has found among chronically homeless adults, 40 per cent of them experience their first episode of homelessness before they were the age of 16,” she said.
“So our ideal is to survey young people before they hit 16 to identify those risks, intervene in them and turn off the tap of homelessness if we can.”
The survey will kick off in the spring and use student numbers instead of names to give young people anonymity, which Mackinnon said will hopefully make them feel comfortable asking for the help they need.
Jordan Siemens said a program like Upstream would have helped him immensely had it been around when he was first struggling.
“I wasn’t connected to any services or things that really helped me out in the community until I first walked into the (BGCO youth) shelter,” he said.
“I definitely think if there were people in the schools that were finding these kids right now and connecting them with different programs early on, it would definitely help them out. There’s no reason why you have to be homeless to access those services for the first time.”
Siemens echoed Mackinnon, saying that it’s important to intervene and connect teens with the help they need while they’re young.
“I think it’s going to make a huge difference for the youth in the community… I would love to see this shelter have no youth stay in it,” he said.
For more information on the Upstream Project, visit the BGCO website.