It takes a lot of teaching and support before a young person can be independent out in the world as an adult. 

Many of Nanaimo’s youth would not be set up for success without the help of the Nanaimo Youth Services Association (NYSA)

“It’s sort of acting like that parent … preparing them for adulthood,” says Chris Lakusta, director of housing and the supportive living program at NYSA. 

In operation since 1969, NYSA provides a variety of services for youths age 15 to 30, with a focus on work experience and skills programs, as well as housing. 

NYSA runs the provincially-funded Bladerunners program – a combo of in-class training and work experience where youth are paid a stipend during the training period, they gather construction, customer service and/or retail skills, and then are connected up with an employer where the program pays the youth’s first few week’s wages. 

The association also runs the federally-funded DiverseFutures program, which works similarly to Bladerunners, but provides even more diversified support, with opportunities to seek counselling and more, while also paying minimum wage during training. 

The training, support and funding is meant to give employers an incentive to hire a youth that hasn’t had the same advantages as many of their peers, says Lakusta. For instance, whereas a young person with lots of family support going into the trades may have their work boots and other items paid for by their family, NYSA can do that through these programs to help youth make money and support themselves. 

“We do pretty extensive follow up and support,” Lakusta says. “If one job doesn’t work out, our job developer works pretty hard in the background to line them up with another job, addressing the issues that went wrong in the first one.” 

As for housing, NYSA runs two buildings

The first is the supportive living program for youth 16 to approximately 19. It has 22 units with several double units for young moms. Support staff are on hand 18 hours a day. Most youth living there are referred by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. There is a variety of supportive programming at the building, including skill-building that’s all in an effort to have residents ready for adulthood and independence. Monthly rent is kept down to the 30 per cent of income range. 

“These young people don’t necessarily have positive adult influences in their lives, and most of them are just attached to a social worker,” says Lakusta. “The more involved we are, the much more likely they are to be successful here.” 

But NYSA’s second housing program, known as Rowe House, is an option for youth who struggle to live independently or who simply can’t afford other housing. 

Rowe House is a rooming house for those 19 to 30-years old, with 14 single-occupancy rooms spread out over four floors. Each floor has a shared kitchen and shared bathrooms. To move in, residents must be employed, be attending school or a training program. 

Rent is about $625 a month, says Lakusta, noting that NYSA doesn’t have enough staff or funding to provide much in the way of on-site supports. 

“We are always advocating or trying to pull in someone to help us with funding for Rowe House,” he says. “We see how important the additional support is here at the youth building. We would love to offer the same level of support at Rowe House, but we struggle to find funding for that.” 

The need for the kinds of supports NYSA offers is substantial, says Lakusta, noting that their employment programs are constantly full, and estimating that, if NYSA could double the amount of housing it has available, it would be full within a matter of days. 

“There’s a large need … and we constantly have youth reaching out to use for services.” 

Becoming a member of the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition means the NYSA can act as an advocate for youth and their unique experiences while trying and struggling to support themselves in Nanaimo. 

To learn more about NYSA and to find out how to support NYSA, go to www.nysa.bc.ca . 

If you are a youth in need of support, call 250-754-1944. 

Youth between the ages of 13-25 make up 20% of the homeless population in Canada [1]. In Nanaimo, we’re seeing increasing numbers of vulnerable youth experiencing homelessness. Of the people facing homelessness surveyed in the 2020 Nanaimo Point-In-Time Count, 10.7% of respondents were under the age of 25. An estimated 60 to 65 youth are living on the street. There are many reasons that lead young people into homelessness.

FAMILY CONFLICT

Family and relationship breakdowns are one of the main reasons young people become homeless. Many youths leave home after years of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, strained relationships, addiction issues in the family and parental neglect. Young people often become homeless because it’s safer to leave home than to stay.

Conflict with parents or caregivers was a major cause of homelessness for 74% of youth, and was a contributing factor for 92% of youth, according to the 2014 Leaving Home report. [2]

RESIDENTIAL INSTABILITY

Aging out of the child welfare system is another cause of youth homelessness. When they reach the age of 19, youth are no longer supported.  Without adequate planning, housing and income support, some youth living in residential or institutional placements become homeless when they’re discharged.

The 2020 Nanaimo Point-in-Time Count confirmed that foster care is a precipitating factor leading youth into homelessness. In Nanaimo, of those who indicated they had been in foster care, 39% were homeless within five years or less of leaving.

LIVING IN POVERTY

Many young people who become homeless come from families living in poverty. The families may indeed be supportive and caring, but may simply not have the means to take care of the young person and they may be forced to leave the home.

Some youth become homeless with their families, after the family suffers financial crises resulting from lack of affordable housing, limited employment opportunities or insufficient wages. These youth may be separated from their family by shelter, transitional housing or child welfare policies.

MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION CHALLENGES

Youth may be pushed into homelessness because of their own undiagnosed or untreated mental health or addictions challenges or because of their parents’ mental health and addictions challenges.  This is concerning because the sufferings of being homeless only exacerbate these challenges.

LGBTQ2S+ YOUTH

LGBTQ2S+ youth experience higher levels of homelessness than their peers. It’s estimated that between 25-40% of homeless youth in Canada identify as LGBTQ2S+ compared to 10% of non-homeless youth.

Many sexual and gender diverse youth grow up in homes with family members that are not accepting, supportive or affirming. Often, coming out to family leads to homelessness. Some youth may run away from home because of abuse or discrimination from their family members. Others may be thrown out of their family home.

DISCRIMINATION

When young people experience discrimination of any kind, it impacts their options and access to employment, educational opportunities, and their ability to access the services they need. This contributes to an increased risk of falling into homelessness, particularly when combined with other challenges the young person may be experiencing in the home.

Challenges for youth

Youth homelessness is complex and is usually the result of a combination of factors.

Experiencing homelessness at any age is extremely difficult. Homeless youth are especially vulnerable to physical and mental health issues, overdoses, abuse and exploitation without a stable support system.

[1] https://awayhome.ca/youth-homelessness/
[2] https://ighhub.org/leavinghome