Youth make up large portion of city's homeless
Published Saturday, April 16, 2011 11:47AM MDT
Chaz Smith prepares meals at a homeless shelter in the city where he works.
But it wasn't that long ago that the 21-year-old was living on the street.
"I remember so many times I felt like I was homeless. I wouldn't go anywhere, nobody cared about me, there were so many times I just wanted to go jump off a bridge," he says.
Calgary's youth make up a large portion of the city's homeless -- there are about 400 homeless youth.
The numbers are believed to be higher as it is hard to track the homeless due to their transient lifestyle.
And the number of families counted is only by facilities, not by the unknown number sleeping in their cars, at a friend's place, or even outside.
Common factors in their homelessness are family violence and abuse, parents' or guardians' substance abuse, and interaction with the child welfare system.
Smith says he came from a dysfunctional family and started skipping school and using drugs, eventually leaving home at 16.
"I'd see things like my mom and dad get into a fight and my dad would take a chair and take out a whole piece of the wall, or freak out and throw plates everywhere," he says.
Three shelters offer beds, food, and clothing to young people in need, including Avenue 15, which is operated by the Boys and Girls Club.
"The pathway to homelessness is full of devastating circumstances for youth and many events that are quite traumatic," says Katie Davies, youth housing and shelter managing director.
"Instability in the home, poverty, addictions in the family, mental health in the family."
Avenue 15 is a safe place for kids 12 to 17, some of them coming in for a good night's sleep and a hot meal, while others are on the path to independence.
"We hope to end their episode of homelessness during that stay so whether that takes two weeks or whether it takes eight months, we're going to be here to support them," says Kristen Johnston, Avenue 15 program coordinator.
Smith says life is good now – he has two jobs and a place of his own. He says he feels he owes a lot of his success to the caring staff at Avenue 15.