By: Shane Rempel
Shane Rempel is a System Planner at Calgary Homeless Foundation.
Shane oversees CHF funded youth housing and support programs, and sits on the Youth Sector Committee, the Youth Placement Committee and co-facilitates the Youth Advisory Table.
Friday May 5th is the official launch of the 2017 Refresh of the Calgary Plan to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness. The new plan focuses on a housing-first approach, and identifies four main priorities with prevention as the most critical, others include: leadership and engagement, systems, and housing. The Youth Plan utilizes years of research into the causes and challenges unique to the youth population, and seeks to develop appropriate responses to support the needs particular to youth, while breaking down barriers youth face due to their age and stage of development.
In 2011, Calgary became the first jurisdiction in Canada to launch a strategic plan to end youth homelessness. A separate plan for youth is necessary because youth experiencing homelessness, like all young people, are experiencing significant developmental changes – social, physical, emotional, and cognitive. It’s important to acknowledge that many adults experiencing homelessness had their first experience with homelessness as a youth, which is why it’s so important to prevent and end youth homelessness. Youth homelessness is unique because:
- Youth homelessness stems in large part from problems or conflict at home.
- Many youth enter homelessness with little or no work experience.
- Youth are in the process of developing and transitioning into adulthood, and may not have acquired personal, social and general life skills that make that transition successful.
- Many youth are forced to abandon their education because of homelessness.
- Youth experiencing homelessness face higher levels of violence, victimization, exploitation and vulnerability.
Over the past four years since the Plan was launched, considerable changes have ensued. These include the launch of Alberta’s provincial Plan to Prevent and Reduce Youth Homelessness (2015), which sets provincial policy direction and is driving new dollars to community to respond to the issue, as well as the renewed Updated Calgary Plan to End Homelessness (2015). Both of these plans emphasize the critical role community ownership and joint accountability play in order to fully implement priority actions on homelessness.
The launch event is this Friday May 5th at The Hilton Garden Inn in East Village. The first part of the day will be an overview of the updated Plan by a lead researchers involved in the development – Dr. Alina Turner. The afternoon is a collaborative Strategic Workshop, where attendees will review the priorities outlined in the Plan and determining where to focus further as we move forward together to end youth homelessness in Calgary.
The public is invited to attend the official launch event in the morning from 8:30-10:00 am. The Plan will be available on the I Heart Home website Friday.
10 Things to know about Youth Homelessness in Calgary:
- 71% of street-involved youth reported having experienced abuse or neglect in the past; 43% of street-involved youth surveyed identified physical abuse; 20% sexual abuse; 29% identified neglect; while 52% identified emotional maltreatment.
- 62% of youth surveyed in the Calgary Youth, Health and Street Study (CYHSS) reported that their family had a history of Child Intervention Services contact. Of that, for over half (52%) the interaction resulted in placement in care. 
- Youth experience high levels of violence while homeless. 75% of those surveyed reported being the victim of violence on the street, and 62% reported they had been violent towards others while on the street. 
- Youth report a high level of substance use which began at a young age. 94% of street-involved youth reported having used a substance in the past 2 weeks. About 1/3 reported having started using alcohol or drugs prior to age 12, while most (57%) started between the ages of 12-15. 
- 18% of youth reported witnessing frequent family violence, and another 36% reported witnessing this more than once. 54% of street-involved youth reported problematic parent alcohol use. 
- LGBTQ2S, indigenous, visible minority and migrant youth are highly over-represented. (It has been reported that 25-40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ2S, compared to only 5-10% of the population.) Key issues intersect across these youth populations, particularly family disconnect or altercations, mental health and addictions challenges, trauma, and physical health challenges; as well as systemic factors such as racism and discrimination, poverty, inter-generational trauma, and colonialism. All of these factors can compound, resulting in greater challenges for marginalised youth.
- Roughly 4 out of 10 people experiencing homelessness report their first experience of homelessness occurred prior to age 24.
- As of October 2016’s PiT count, there were 377 youth in Calgary experiencing homelessness, this is approximately 20% of the homeless population; with 46% of those youth utilizing adult shelters. 
- It’s estimated that 1530 unique youth used emergency shelters in 2015, representing about 16% of all emergency shelter users.
- Of the youth who entered CHF-funded housing and support programs during the 2015-16 fiscal year, 74% exited the program to a positive housing destination, while 47% of youth had a decrease in emergency system use.
     (Worthington et al., 2009)
  (2014 Calgary Homeless Foundation PiT Count)
 (Youth Shelter and Facility Data provided by Alberta Human Services)
 (CHF Data)