Smiths Falls

Youth homeless program proposed for Smiths Falls

Posted Jun 14, 2012 By Stacey Roy

EMC News - A proposal to establish a winter youth homeless program in Smiths Falls came to committee this week for consideration.

Ann Emon, executive director of Successful Transitional Avenues for Youth (STAY) made a presentation to this week's committee asking Smiths Falls to consider approving $500 in support of establishing a night-time emergency shelter.

"I'm hoping to inspire you to move that forward," Emon said. "This is really in the very infancy stage."

She is proposing to establish an 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. emergency shelter for those aged 16 to 24 that would run from November to April inside one of the local churches or faith group facilities. The service would operate a few days a week, but Emon added the solution can be adjusted to match what can realistically be achieved at this time. Depending on corporate and faith services support, Emon said the funds from the town could be used to purchase cots or needed materials to operate the shelter. STAY has received some interest to open an emergency shelter in both Smiths Falls and Carleton Place and is exploring them at this time.

The recommendation for a youth emergency shelter came out of last year's Youth Forum where town staff hosted a number of local youth to ask them what needs they had in town. Following this meeting Emon has met to discuss and understand the needs of 10 Smiths Falls youth who have spent between two and eight months on the street. The message received was a safe place to sleep.

"A lot of kids I talked to were sleeping behind the train station," Emon told councilors this week.

Currently, there is no emergency housing in Lanark County, Leeds-Grenville or Renfrew counties and Ontario Works can only afford to provide a Band-Aid of two-to-three days of hotel accommodation in a dire emergency. "They're not going to be able to solve their problems in two-to-three days," Emon said, noting a family break down of this severity often takes much longer to heal.

According to statistics presented by Emon this week, communities like Smiths Falls have about 30 homeless youth at any given time (ratio of three in every thousand population).

"Eighty per cent of homelessness is hidden. That's primarily what we see in rural communities including Smiths Falls," Emon said.

Her presentation strived to clear up the misconceptions of youth homelessness explaining to councilors that often times it is not an unwillingness to follow the rules but a desire to sleep in safety that drives children out of their homes and into the streets or to their friends' couches. Emon said statistics she has been able to gather show that 45 to 60 per cent of homeless youth were at some point in the social services system due to abuse or neglect.

Coun. Chris Cummings spoke of his experience in welcoming his children's friends to sleep on the couch on occasion and thanked Emon for providing greater context to the problem. This past Tuesday, June 12 the town held its 2012 Youth Forum at the Legion. Councilors will receive a report on the recommendations coming forward from this discussion at a later date.

This is not the first time council has considered youth housing. In 2009 a proposal came forward to open a youth shelter but was shelved due to citizen concern and council's desire not to increase the social housing in town. This January, changes to The Housing Services Act passed that will now require the county to develop a local housing and homelessness plan by Jan. 1, 2014.

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