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Westbank Lions Community Centre packed for homeless youth forum
There are West Kelowna youth sleeping on friends' couches, staying in Kelowna shelters and even living in tents.
It's an issue that the RCMP, local schools and various social organizations have been aware of and trying to improve for quite some time; however, they're now getting the support of several community members.
On Tuesday evening more than 120 residents attended No Place to Call Home: A public forum regarding homeless youth in West Kelowna.
"In the position I'm in now, and in the summer months that I'm working with general duty members, I've certainly become aware of the problem firsthand," said Sherri Lund, West Kelowna RCMP school liaison officer.
"I think it's great we're taking time to recognize these issues of youth homelessness in our community."
Several Mount Boucherie Senior Secondary students gave presentations, which featured interviews of students and teachers, as well as youth who have been in a homeless situation themselves.
During one video presentation, a girl whose name was kept anonymous for privacy reasons, explained what led to her becoming temporarily homeless.
"Things just got really bad with my parents. We were fighting so much and it just got to the point where, one morning, my dad just put a bunch of my stuff in a suitcase, threw it outside and said, 'Get out.'"
Another group of students presented results from a survey they conducted, which indicated one-third of Mount Boucherie students had spent at least three consecutive nights outside of their home due to arguments or other family issues.
Irene Maier, department head of student leadership at Mount Boucherie explained that statistic.
"Obviously, as teen/parent conflict goes, there is a lot of short-term couch surfing that happens at different points of time with families," said Maier.
"We certainly plan to do a more in-depth kind of survey because we know many (students) are genuinely homeless over long periods of time."
She added she has become aware of some students who are living in abusive situations and have chosen to leave their houses.
A recurring theme throughout the various Mount Boucherie student presentations was that West Kelowna is in need of a youth shelter so homeless youth can have a safe place to stay while keeping connected with their community.
Later in the forum, a panel representing the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Now Canada and Kelowna Gospel Mission shared information regarding available services.
Kristy Butterworth of the Boys and Girls Club Westside youth centre said there are several reasons why it's important to help youth in homeless situations.
"Young people who successfully transition into adulthood become productive members of their community who pay taxes," said Butterworth.
Concerned citizens are invited to meet May 16 at 10 a.m. at Westbank United Church to discuss next steps in dealing with the issue.