December’s Guest Perspective is by: Rohan Nuttall, Director of “Through My Eyes” and Youth Advisor to the Society for Safe and Caring Schools & Communities. Rohan is also the 2014 recipient of the HEROES of a Safe and Caring World Youth Impact Award (Northern Region).
Cozy fires, freshly wrapped gifts, the sweet aroma of pine needles and rich cooking. That’s how most Albertans might describe their holiday season this year. With streets decorated with tantalizing lights and glistening ornaments, Christmas is a time that kindles warmth in our hearts and homes. This year, however, brings with it troubling news of rising rates of youth homelessness. Edmonton, for example, saw a 17% increase in homeless youth, according to Homeward Trust’s 2014 Homeless Count. Among the 2,252 people counted to be living on the streets of our capital city, a startling 562 are aged 24 or younger.
This dire news also comes at a time when Alberta has been identified as the most unequal province in the country, with income inequality surpassing that of the United States (according to Statistics Canada). Though there has been progress through Alberta’s Poverty Reduction Strategy and in policy domains such as affordable housing, early childhood development, education & workplace skills development, there is just so much more that we can do.
It’s time to ask ourselves: How can a province that generated 80% of all jobs in Canada this year have so many displaced and struggling youth? This is especially important for the well-being of our society because homelessness still costs the Canadian economy around $7 billion each year in support services.
According to the Williams Institute, about 40% of homeless youth identify themselves as LGBTQ and nearly 68% indicated that family rejection was a major factor contributing to their homelessness. It becomes less about living and more about surviving; less about happiness and more about loneliness.
No one deserves to live under those circumstances, and it’s time that, not as a single government, or a business, or an organization, but as a community, we come to terms with the fact that this is one of the most prominent issues facing our society today. It’s time that we recognize poverty isn’t supposed to be a modern problem. We’ve got to make its elimination a social priority and not solely a political or economic one. If we don’t start taking this issue seriously and on a personal level, we limit our chances of ever being successful.
Take it upon yourself this holiday season to try these twelve things to play your part:
- Learn about the causes of youth homelessness by watching the documentary “Through My Eyes” by the City of Edmonton Youth Council.
- Sign up for the #8000Mentors project @ www.albertamentors.ca/8000me ntors.
- Donate funds to local organizations that provide services for those who need it most.
- Read the “What We Heard” Report from the Mayor’s Symposium on Poverty. It’s important.
- The next homeless youth or adult you see, look at them and say “Hello” and ask them how their day has been.
- Spend 30 minutes identifying how you can apply your skills to make a difference in the life of one homeless youth.
- Donate to your local food or clothing bank. Alberta winters are cold.
- Be respectful and courteous. Make eye contact. Smile.
- Talk to your family, friends and colleagues about their ideas on ending homelessness.
- Email the Alberta Poverty Reduction Strategy team at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts or find out how you can get involved.
- Spend an evening at an organization like the Old Strathcona Youth Society or other youth organizations in your own communities.
- Be a voice of encouragement. Strike up a conversation and talk to homeless youth about their dreams and aspirations. Ask them how you can be of assistance.
Eliminating an issue like youth homelessness cannot be solely accomplished by action plans and top-down strategic mandates. Seriously. If we ever want to change anything, it’s so important for us to get thoroughly involved with the realities, the lives of these youth. To become friends with them.
This article appeared in our December 2014 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!