A common catch phrase during election time is “youth are the future.” Most candidates and voters embrace this idea, but there are still major issues affecting youth that are not being adequately addressed at the political level.
One of these issues is homelessness. Throughout Nova Scotia, a significant number of youth are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. When living at home is not an option due to poverty, violence, substance abuse or a range of other factors, many youth find themselves without a place to stay. In rural areas the options for these youth are few and far between, and most resort to staying temporarily with friends (couch surfing—not as fun as it sounds) or leaving for the city. Sexual exploitation is a reality for many adolescent girls experiencing homelessness.
Youth in our province are affected by a number of interrelated issues that reinforce their marginalization and pose considerable barriers to achieving independence. These include poverty, a difficult housing market, mental health and substance abuse issues, a lack of support services and lack of coordination among services, family violence/abuse, and a lack of job and educational/training opportunities.
A major challenge youth face is the gap in social and economic supports for people in their teenage years. Many youth living in poverty find themselves between a rock and a hard place: they are old enough to be expected to support themselves, yet most are rejected for income assistance because they are under 19 years of age and do not fit the eligibility criteria. Without a source of income, youth struggle to find housing and some end up entangled in the criminal justice system.
If young people are fortunate enough to find rental housing, an expensive housing market forces youth to make difficult choices between paying rent, buying groceries, and covering other financial costs. Many forces work against youth who are seeking affordable housing including age discrimination, no track record with landlords and creditors, and difficulty obtaining references. Combined with the low self-esteem that consistently accompanies housing insecurity, these circumstances prevent youth from taking steps to achieve their goals.
We need a provincial system of supportive housing for youth to address this problem. Supportive housing addresses the gap in services for youth by providing individual support, referrals, advocacy and life skills development—all in a safe and supervised environment. A successful rural model exists in Bridgewater, and there are efforts underway to create similar facilities in Pictou and Antigonish. What would it take to establish supportive housing for youth throughout Nova Scotia?
Reed, Katherine and Krista DeCoste, “Assessing Youth Homeless in Antigonish” Project Final Report (June 2002).