On November 23rd 2015, I was honoured to host Youth Homelessness Action Day at Queen’s Park in collaboration with the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (United Way of KFLA). As MPP for Kingston and the Islands it makes me very proud that our city was the first in Ontario to participate in a pilot project to address youth homelessness. The resulting Community Plan to End Youth Homelessness in Kingston and Area was released in 2014 and is now being implemented in our community.
Despite preconceived notions that homelessness is an issue that affects mainly adults, annually there are at least 35,000 young people who are homeless. Put into perspective, this is equal to 15% of all Canadians who experience homelessness annually. Furthermore, on any given night in Canada there are over 6,000 homeless young people. This means that 1 in 5 shelter users are youth. Unfortunately, in Kingston and the surrounding areas, these numbers are even higher; 1 in 3 shelter users are youth between the ages of 15 and 24. These numbers also don’t include the thousands of youth who are part of the hidden homeless population who ‘couch surf’.
As a mother and as an MPP, these statistics are simply unacceptable. Youth homelessness is an issue that is present in every community across this province, urban or rural, and affects youth from all socio-economic backgrounds. It is also important to combat the stereotype that kids are on the street because they don’t want to live by their parents rules. In fact, most have fled or been forced to leave their homes due to family conflict, mental health or addiction, physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
To share the impressive work of the United Way KFLA with my colleagues at the Legislature and raise even more awareness on this issue, I hosted an all-party Youth Homelessness Action Day at the Ontario Legislature. MPPs wore specially designed scarves inspired by youth and we heard from a number of service providers from around the province and youth with lived experience on how we can work together to make a positive difference in the lives of at-risk youth. Bhavana Varma, CEO of the United Way KFLA, shared information about some of the causes of youth homelessness and the specific challenges that young people face when they are homeless. We also showcased Kingston’s innovative approach to bring about change. Ensuring that youth have an active voice and role in identifying solutions is the best way to provide them with the support and resources they need to reach their full potential.
At the event, I was incredibly appreciative that Deputy Premier, the Hon. Deb Matthews, and Minister of Children and Youth, the Hon. Tracy MacCharles, took time out of their busy schedules to speak to providers and reiterate the province’s commitment to work together to eliminate chronic homelessness within 10 years. I would also like to thank MPP Julia Munroe (York-Simcoe) and MPP Monique Taylor (Hamilton Mountain) who spoke in support of raising awareness and implementing strategies to end youth homelessness in Ontario. It truly was fabulous to see members from all parties rally around this important issue to learn more and collaborate with others. To say that I was just a tad proud of the United Way’s efforts would be an understatement!
Thanks to the impressive work of the United Way and the Youth Homelessness Steering Committee, the Government of Ontario is increasing funding to create new positions for those helping homeless youth. These include Transitional Workers, who assist youth and help connect them with services in the area, as well as Transitional Aged Youth who coordinate support for youth struggling with mental health and/or addiction issues. I am also pleased to say that the Ministry of Children and Youth has also offered funding for 3 years for a number of programs in Kingston and the area through the Stepping up Stream. I am immensely proud of our government’s commitment to end chronic homelessness within 10 years and I encourage you to learn more about Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy and Ontario’s Youth Action Plan.
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