Shalu Mehta/News Staff
For many Canadians, a 19th birthday is something to celebrate. It’s an official initiation into adulthood that signals new beginnings. For those that are in government care, however, the 19th birthday is a dreaded date marking the day they “age out” of care.
“They lose financial and health supports, and if they’ve not been lucky enough to get placement in a home, find themselves on the streets subsumed into adult services and having to navigate a new world,” said Colin Tessier, executive director of Threshold Housing Society.
A report produced out of the 2018 Greater Victoria Point in Time Count says many people who experience homelessness have a history of involvement in government care. Studies have found that being in foster care is a strong predictor for adult homelessness, with aging out of care cited as a risk factor.
Nearly one-third of the respondents to the 2018 Point in Time count indicated they were in government care in the past. A majority of them felt Child Protection Services was not helpful in transitioning them to stable housing after leaving the foster care system. Nearly half of Indigenous survey respondents reported having been a youth in government or ministry care.
“They’re vulnerable people who are newly homeless and often find themselves preyed upon,” Tessier said. “There’s a gap. Different services land on either side of their 19th birthday and a separation between those is what’s challenging.”
Threshold Housing Society works with youth up to the age of 24 as well as the Ministry of Child and Family Development to get referrals for 17- and 18-year-olds so they’re in the cue for housing before they age out. Threshold then works to not only provide them with housing, but with resources for mental health support and life planning as well.
“People who are in government care are coming from trauma. You don’t enter that system unless you’ve had a family breakdown, and you can bet there’s a lot of pain and hardship that’s come from that often in younger years,” Tessier said.
A youth-led report that was released in February with support of B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth calls on the province to make a plan to end youth homelessness in B.C. It was compiled by 16 youth leaders who call themselves Youth Against Homeless B.C. and highlights a number of findings. According to the youth, an area in need of government focus includes an unsafe and non-responsive foster care system as well as a shortage of youth-specific housing options and waitlists to access housing.
Fostering Change, a group launched by Vancouver Foundation in 2013, said more than 92 per cent of people in B.C. provide their own children with support after the age of 19, but that’s not the case for youth in care. The group is working to make sure aging out of care can be a positive experience with supports that last past the 19th birthday cutoff.
According to a statement from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the ministry is working to further expand its programs to provide consistent supports to all youth who age out of care. The province also announced $6 million over three years to fund the Provincial Tuition Waiver Program so eligible former youth in care can benefit from free tuition at B.C. post-secondary institutions until their 27th birthday.
Tessier said advocacy groups are looking to raise the age that youth leave the system to help them receive supports into young adulthood. It’s part of the reason why Threshold offers supports to people up to the age of 24 as well.
“This is a crisis situation where young people are dying in care and we’re not fixing it,” Tessier said. “It just seems like this is an area where it’s really tough to move the needle. Very little seems to change.”
–With files from Ashley Wadhwani
This Black Press Media series takes a look at different factors of youth homelessness in the region. This is part four of the four-part series.