Youth brace themselves for a cold winter

Sometimes, Leon Salmon needs a place to stay. The 12-year-old First Nation boy was attending Thursday night’s youth town hall at the Westmark.

Sometimes, Leon Salmon needs a place to stay.

The 12-year-old First Nation boy was attending Thursday night’s youth town hall at the Westmark.

The meeting focused on the need for an emergency youth shelter in Whitehorse.

“I’d stay there to not be cold,” said Salmon.

“Sometimes (youth) need a place to stay because their parents are in rehab or their dad has left them,” he said.

After learning that it would take several hundred thousand dollars to build an emergency shelter, Salmon was discouraged.

“It’ll take a long time,” he said.

Now, with an implementation plan in place, the Whitehorse Youth Coalition just needs funding to get the shelter up and running.

However, before the Yukon government will commit to ongoing funding, it wants to document how many homeless youth are in the community, said Youth Coalition member David Prodan.

But the number of homeless youth changes month to month, said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell, who attended the meeting.

And it’s not an easy thing to document.

Many homeless youth end up couch surfing, making the problem largely invisible.

“I have a friend who always has someone staying at her house,” said Ashley.

The 12-year-old has also watched friends go home with complete strangers just to get a roof over their heads.

“They’ll come into the Boys and Girls Club just before it closes and start asking anyone for a place to stay, even people they don’t know,” she said.

Youth end up homeless for a variety of reasons.

A couple of 14-year-old Dylan Jones’ friends needed a place to stay because they missed their curfew and were locked out.

Kayle has friends whose parents drink.

“And they don’t want to stay with their parents because they abuse them,” said the 12-year-old.

All these youth would be welcome at the shelter anytime of the night, said Prodan.

Because the government is first planning to document the number of homeless youth in Whitehorse, funding probably won’t come through until the spring.

“Can’t we just put some cots in the (Boys and Girls Club) warehouse for the winter,” said Ashley, during the meeting.

Winter is well on its way and the youth were worried about friends sleeping out in the cold.

“We really need an interim measure,” said Prodan.

“We’ve been meeting about youth homelessness for the past 10 years,” said Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon executive director Judy Pakozdy.

“There are so many reports and no action.”

Outside the Westmark, Jackie and a buddy were hanging out on the sidewalk.

The aboriginal youth has been sleeping in a tent down by the river for the past few years.

In the winter, he usually tries to find a place.

“But I have nowhere to stay right now,” he said.

Stuck on the street, youth end up drinking and doing drugs to survive the cold, said Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services youth outreach worker Tandi Brown, who used to work at emergency shelters in Victoria, BC.

“So being at risk puts you further at risk,” she said.

“It’s like a quiet disaster,” said a concerned citizen who attended the meeting.

Women in need can stay at Kaushee’s Place, while homeless adults, mostly men, use the Salvation Army’s emergency shelter.

Youth have none of these options.

“(Kaushee’s) sees young women showing up and they can’t take them in because of their age,” said Many Rivers executive director Marilyn Wolovick.

“And if the Salvation Army is full, they can at least send people to the drunk tank,” said Pakozdy.

“But the kids don’t even have that kind of back-up.”

The proposed emergency shelter will have 12 beds and will accept youth up to the age of 17.

The Boys and Girls Club has a warehouse space and federal funding in place to renovate, said Prodan.

All it’s waiting on is funding from the Yukon government.

The Youth Coalition has had some trouble working with First Nations.

“We invited Skookum Jim Friendship Centre and the Council of Yukon First Nations to participate, but got no support,” said Prodan.

The First Nations are frustrated they were not more involved in drafting the implementation plan, he said.

The coalition is still hoping to work with First Nations, since many of the at-risk youth are native.

Overlooking the need for a youth shelter is an insult to democracy, said an audience member during the discussion.

The government just announced it was going to spend $31 million working on the Robert Campbell Highway, said Pakozdy.

“One million of that wouldn’t be missed, and imagine the difference it would make.”