New initiative using early-intervention and prevention against youth homelessness in Kelowna

Prevent youth homelessness

The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Okanagan announced Thursday a new initiative to tackle youth homelessness in Kelowna.

The program called Upstream Kelowna is focused on three goals: reduce school disengagement, reduce youth homelessness and reduce the number of young people who are living with mental health distress.

The initiative is led by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada in partnership with A Way Home Kelowna, Arc Programs, The Bridge Youth and Family Services, Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society, Foundry Kelowna and School District 23.

The program will use a locally adapted screening tool to help identify youth who may be at risk and the confidential Student Needs Assessment helps identify the youth before they experience crisis.

The initiative originates in Australia, where it has demonstrated huge success with a 40 per cent reduction in youth homelessness and a 20 per cent reduction in drop out rates.

The survey will be given to students in Grade 8, ahead of them turning 16.

“There’s a national survey on homelessness that has found among chronically homeless adults, 40 per cent of them experienced their first episode of homelessness before they were the age of 16. So our ideal is to survey young people before they hit 16 to identify those risks, intervene in them and turn off the tap to homelessness all together if we can," says Sarah Mackinnon, youth services director for BGCO.

The program is capable of identifying up to 50 per cent more at risk young people than were previously known.

Before taking the survey, the youth will be educated on what the purpose of the survey and it is believed they will answer truthfully.

“What they’ve found in Australia is students will identify that they have needs that are not met if they’re asked the right questions," says Mackinnon.

So what happens after youth take the survey and they are identified as being at risk?

“So they’re identified as being at risk, they identify they’d like supports, and then we have a number of community partners and we identify which program is best suited to this young persons needs, connect them to that support and then wrap around ideally, the young person and their family to give them the support they need to stay resilient," she adds.

A Journey Home’s five-year strategy to address homelessness in Kelowna listed the Upstream Kelowna pilot project as one of the top 10 actions that needed to be implemented. Some services offered through the initiative are family mediation, systems navigation, mental health, addictions and life skills.

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