Youth keep troubles to themselves

In the Yukon, youth homelessness is a problem. Or it is not. Depends on whom you talk to. Hard numbers are hard to come by.

In the Yukon, youth homelessness is a problem.

Or it is not.

Depends on whom you talk to.

Hard numbers are hard to come by.

Homeless youth usually don’t broadcast their troubles to strangers, statisticians or bureaucrats.

Even parents in “functional homes” know how hard it is to learn, from teens, what’s actually going on in their lives.

Kids escaping troubles at home aren’t going to broadcast their woes — teen survival 101 dictates they keep their mouths shut and pretend everything’s OK. The default is “fit in, at all costs.”

In the Yukon, there are other stresses.

Rural kids are often shipped to Whitehorse to attend high school.

Those kids find themselves in strange surroundings with extended family who might, or might not, understand teenagers.

That exacerbates problems.

And, heck, they’re teenagers — proud, rebellious, distrustful, scared and confused and unsure of themselves.

And who can blame ‘em?

They’re trying to sort out the world while weirded out by endorphins, estrogen, caffeine and, sometimes, booze and pot.

Toss in sexual curiosity and you’ve got a good idea why they don’t communicate their problems very well.

So, are there are lot of homeless youth in Whitehorse? Might be. Hard to say.

But last night it was minus 42 Celsius.

And if a 14-year-old kids’ parents were drunk and threatening them with violence, where would they turn?

Would they phone the cops?

Or would they hump it to their nearest friend’s place?

And when the friend’s parents decided it was late and time to go … would they admit their parents are fighting and ask to stay the night?

Remember, you’re talking about a teenager.

So they probably head to Wal-Mart.

There, maybe they meet a friend. Or a sympathetic adult. Maybe not.

And, when Wal-Mart closes … Tags?

And when they get tired?

Would they call Health and Social Services? Would they involve the government … the authorities?

Remember, the kids’ parents are fighting. At the moment, they probably hate ‘em.

But, in the end, they are the kids’ parents. And they aren’t always drunk.

So where does the kid turn?

By 17, they are probably seasoned. They have a system in place. By 19, they are adults.

At 13, they are just learning.

So, the community has questions to answer.

Is there a problem?

Do you address it?

Whom do you target?

And how? (RM)

PART II

Whitehorse shelter set up to fail

Apparently, the government has money to burn.

Last week, Health Minister Brad Cathers casually tossed $227,000 at youth homelessness.

That’s enough money for a substantial down payment on a house.

But Cather’s pilot is, in truth, a virtual program.

It will have no physical structure.

Instead, it will use cellphones and a rental car to ferry 17- to 20-year-old adults to a bed in an alcohol- and drug-treatment centre.

The government will monitor how much the service is used until sometime in May — surprisingly, the exact expiration date has not been figured out.

It will then decide whether to continue the program, or not.

That is, it will decide if there’s a youth homelessness problem.

Two beds have been set aside at the government-funded treatment centre. There may be four other beds available, but it’s not clear where they are located. Or if they exist at all.

But, to be generous, let’s assume Cathers has spent $227,000 for six beds.

For that money, Cathers could have rented six hotel rooms a night at the Westmark Whitehorse for a year.

The whole project seems bizarre.

The Skookum Jim Friendship Centre is getting most of the money —  $191,000.

That money will pay for four staff members for up to four months.

That’s more than $11,000 per employee, per month.

Skookum Jim would not say what training the staff will receive.

The four project employees will be on call. That is, they will carry cellphones. And will answer from home, if necessary.

If a youth calls, they will assess their needs.

If the caller is younger than 17, they will be sent to children and family services or taken home. Do you think a child will call?

If the person is 17, or older, their circumstances will be addressed and they may get a bed at the government alcohol treatment facility. Or somewhere else.

The program started Friday, said Skookum Jim reps. A government release announcing the program was faxed to media outlets on Monday afternoon.

Outreach van workers and police were handing out the numbers all weekend, said Skookum Jim officials, noting no youth had called the number yet.

They shouldn’t have been surprised.

When contacted, outreach van workers and police had little information about the program.

In fact, the not-for-profit agency responsible for the outreach van, Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services, knew nothing about the program as of Tuesday morning.

That agency hadn’t been consulted on the project. That’s surprising, considering its executive director helped conduct a detailed federal study on youth homelessness in the Yukon last year.

Most agencies that deal with youth are relieved Cathers has put resources toward what they consider a problem in the Yukon.

But they don’t think it will work.

They doubt the near-adults will call strangers to drive them to a bed at alcohol and drug services.

They question whether youth will want to be placed among recovering alcoholics.

They wonder if the program will sap resources from alcohol and drug services, which arguably needs more beds, not less.

But the initiative puts them in a tricky spot.

They are reluctant to challenge it, because, however ill-considered and wonky the program is, it is something. And they know some Whitehorse youth desperately need shelter.

We suggest Cathers can’t have it both ways.

Justifying the $227,000 expenditure, he said it’s expensive to pull a program together quickly.

If the problem is important enough that it needs to be pulled together quickly, it needs to be done right — there must be a formal shelter where youth feel comfortable to crash.

That’s not what’s happening.

Instead, it looks like Cathers’ $227,000 fact-finding project is set up to fail.

An organization and a few individuals will make a lot of money.

Youth won’t use it.

Officials will crunch the numbers, say they tried and argue those numbers don’t justify a dedicated shelter.

Cathers may as well have burned the money in a bonfire before the Elijah Smith building.

Then, at least a few youth might have kept warm. (RM)

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