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Action group continues to tackle Westside youth homelessness issue
Several West Kelowna residents aren't letting the issue of youth homelessness get moved to the back burner.
Rev. Louise Cummings of Westbank United Church was part of the group that organized the West Kelowna Youth Homelessness Forum at Westbank Lions Community Centre last May.
Since then, good things have been happening, according to Cummings.
Prior to the forum, three meals per month were being provided to the Westside Youth Centre by churches in the area. More churches jumped on board after the forum and now eight meals per month are being provided.
In early September The Okanagan Boys' and Girls' Club Westside Youth Centre was closed after a suspected arsonist set fire to Westbank Lions Community Centre.
According to Cummings, the youth centre has been temporarily relocated to a rented space within Westbank United Church. She said the space is currently being utilized by about eight to 20 kids per day,.
"Part of the challenge for them here is that they don't have the pool tables—things to do are pretty limited here," said Cummings.
"But the main thing is that they have a safe place to be with each other where they can access the staff and get in touch with the services they need.
"What we hear is that the kids who need it most are the ones who are coming."
Although positive steps are being made to help youth in the community, Cummings said there is still a housing need for West Kelowna youth who may benefit from provincial youth agreements.
According to George Curran, program director with ARC Programs Ltd., youth agreements are legal agreements between young people and the Ministry of Children and Family Development that provide funding to help youth find a place to live.
"The kids have to demonstrate significant issues in their lives to be able to come on," said Curran.
Those who are 16 to 18 and don't have a parent or relative willing to take responsibility for them, or can't return home for safety reasons, are potential candidates for youth agreements.
The agreements allow the youth to live in a shared accommodation with a family that has signed up for the program. Typically, the youth are given a bedroom with access to a bathroom and a kitchen.
"Typically it's not a suite or anything like that…lots of times it might be families who've (had) somebody go off to university, or it's a friend's parents' house."
Landlords who sign up for the program are given about $375 per month for offering their space.
Curran said around 20 to 25 Central Okanagan youth may be utilizing youth agreements at any given time; approximately 20 per cent of those youth live in West Kelowna.
"We've always had a more difficult time housing kids on the Westside—it's harder for us to recruit landlords."
Curran added it's difficult to place West Kelowna youth—who may work and go to school in West Kelowna—in Rutland or other areas of Kelowna because they have limited transportation options.
Those who are interested in learning more about the youth agreements program, or who want to look into sharing their accommodation with youth in need, can phone ARC Programs youth services staff at 250-763-3039.