It is presumed that the role of agencies that support at-risk youth, like Horizons for Youth, is to help homeless youth become self-sufficient and independent from their family. However, if ‘family’ is framed as a detriment to homeless youth, we may be dismissing some important individuals that can help youth transition out of homelessness
The frequency of contact that Ahsan* has with the police begs the question of whether another person, for instance a white blonde female like myself, would have been stopped for the same thing. Rather, it is likely that occupying low-income areas, being a male of colour and/or fitting the stereotypical appearance of a homeless person lead Ahsan to receive a disproportionate amount of attention from the police.
Extreme poverty often leads homeless youth to trade sex for food, housing and money in order to meet their most basic needs. It is estimated that one in three homeless youth participate in survival sex. “Engaging in sex as a means of survival increases exposure to potential trauma for these youth and increases their vulnerability to violence, rape” (NSVRC, 2014, p. 8). Experiences of sexual violence can trigger or worsen mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and can negatively impact a youth’s ability to build trusting relationships in the future.
In light of a 2016 study which found that 85.4% of homeless youth in Canada are experiencing a mental health crisis and 42% had attempted suicide at least once (Schwan et al, 2018) group environments like these send a message to the many HFY residents experiencing mental health challenges that they are not alone.
“Horizons for Youth is a big part of how Bootcamps for Change got started” Katie explains. “I learned on their website that they had limited funding for fitness and wellness programs, so I got in touch with their team and told them that I’m a certified Personal Trainer and would like to offer free boot camp classes once a week.”