Following the pathway from adolescent to adulthood can be challenging for many youth.
Those who stray and find themselves homeless and/or struggling with mental health issues often could have kept their lives on track if help was provided in their school years instead of “flying under the radar.”
A new pilot project was launched by Central Okanagan Boys & Girls Club called Upstream Kelowna, the result of the City of Kelowna’s Journey Home Strategy, which outlined 10 action plans, one being the Upstream Kelowna initiative, with the goal to establish a five-year strategy to address homelessness in the city.
From its initial inception in 2018, the Upstream Kelowna stakeholder support had widened by January 2020.
Partner stakeholders in Upstream Kelowna recruited by the boys & girls club now includes Central Okanagan Public Schools, The Bridge, Foundry Kelowna, ARC Programs, and the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society.
Philippa Putlitz, Upstream Kelowna coordinator, said the school-based prevention strategy reflects the impact of school students on homelessness numbers.
Putlitz, speaking to the Central Okanagan Board of Education about the program Wednesday (May 11), said according to the 2018 Without a Home Survey, 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night and 40 per cent began to experience homelessness before the age of 16.
She explained to keep kids from disengaging from school is critical to giving them a chance to find success as adults.
The operating template for Upstream Kelowna was created from the Canada Upstream Project, a national initiative aimed to prevent, rather than respond to, youth homelessness across the country.
Using a population screening tool, the project identifies at-risk youth and connects them to supports that help them remain in school and maintain stable housing.
The screening tool involves a voluntary assessment, analysis of the data collected, validation through followup interviews and providing connection to support agencies.
Putlitz said the first assessment was voluntary for Grade 8 students in KLO and Springvalley middle schools in 2021 and generated a 96 per cent response.
The results in total for both schools saw access to coordinated support provided to more than 50 students/families and identified 138 students with possible risk factors.
“The impact of the assessments was we discovered 39 per cent of our respondents were students who had an unknown risk they were facing in their lives, who were flying under the radar,” she said.
“If we can identify and help those kids before those risks become more serious issues, that will help keep them in school.”
Of those receiving support, 43 per cent reported increased stability at home; 53 per cent felt an increased sense of belonging, safety and security; 31 per cent reported improved attendance at school; and 27 per cent saw improvement from feelings of depression and hopelessness.
Family issues at home and mental health service needs, both at 68 per cent, were the two biggest demands for coordinated support services.
Putlitz said dealing with health and social issues at home and school is intense work but the success of making an impact on the quality of life for families is a worthwhile outcome.
That success was acknowledged with Upstream Kelowna winning a national youth homelessness prevention award from Making The Shift, a youth homelessness social innovation lab research project.
She said her enthusiastic ambitions for Upstream Kelowna to expand are only limited by access to the financial resources to make it happen.
Her goal for 2022-23 is continue working to find the funding to increase the scope of service and work to upgrade the assessments to four schools, which would impact some 800 students. A second survey of Grade 8s at KLO and Springvalley will be carried out which will provide a survey comparison analysis benefit to the 2021 survey results.
Moyra Baxter, chair of the board of education, said she would like to see the program name changed to Upstream Central Okanagan to reflect the involvement of schools in Lake Country and the Westside.
“There is a great need for programs like this and we know how important they are,” Baxter said.
“This is a powerful program to engage with families to help deal with problems they face early on before they become something much bigger,” added trustee Chantelle Desrosiers.
For more information check out the Okanagan Boys & Girls website at bgco.ca or call 250-258-7421.