Homeless youth may get Langley shelter

Homeless teens under 18 have had no place to go at times of extreme weather alerts.

Despite Langley’s growing homeless population, including an increase in young people needing a safe place to rest their heads at night, this community has no extreme weather shelter for youth.

But that may be about to change.

At both Langley council meetings, the mayors put forward a motion asking for councils to put in up to $5,000 each into making sure teens in need are sheltered this winter.

The motion came out of a meeting the Langley mayors had with Langley’s youth homeless co-ordinator Loren Roberts on Friday. Roberts provided the mayors with information about how many youth are homeless and how many Roberts and staff at the Aldergrove Neighbourhood Services have been sending to youth shelters in Abbotsford and Surrey.

Since the Gateway of Hope opened up and started taking over the province’s Extreme Weather Emergency Shelter program from the local churches, teens could no longer be sheltered.

The Gateway of Hope’s mandate is to help adults. It has been flexible, said Roberts, reducing the age restriction to 18 from 19 but there are plenty of 16 and 17-year-olds needing shelter too, he points out.

“What we have found since we opened up Starting Point, adult homeless have been coming in here saying they have been taking a teen under their wing. It was a real eye opener for us. Actual street homeless of teens in Langley is around three but rule of thumb is if we find three, we have to triple that number for the ones we haven’t found,” said Roberts.

Homelessness can include kids staying in vehicles or crashing at a friend’s house. “Tonight there are around 15 to 20 kids who don’t have a home to sleep at,” said Roberts last Thursday.

Roberts’ team of youth workers have been sending teens to Sirus Centre in Abbotsford, which he says has been more than accommodating.

“But it’s time we start taking care of our own,” he said.

The province will provide Greyhound bus passes, but often teens will just ride the bus around to stay warm and dry.

The province also provides transit fare to get kids to shelters but that can end badly, said Roberts. Sometimes, teens will choose to ride into Vancouver where they can get lost to the Downtown Eastside.

If council approves the $10,000, ANS can have an Extreme Weather Emergency Shelter for youth up and running in Langley by mid-November, if needed, Roberts said. The money will provide for at least two shelter beds and staff.

The key to preventing an increase in homelessness in the future is helping the youth today and preventing them from becoming entrenched in the homeless lifestyle.

“The number of 19 and 20-year-olds who are homeless in Langley is pretty significant,” said Roberts. “That’s a lot of youth who have slipped through the cracks.

“Once they are entrenched in the homeless lifestyle of living without rules and responsibilities, it’s hard to break the cycle. And it can be hard to break it if it’s all they’ve ever known.”

He said in those cases, those young people are hard to house because they often wouldn’t do well with roommates. They often have a difficult time staying at a job too.

“But to get a job, the have to have a stable place to live. So it’s that challenge we are up against.”

Youth outreach workers at ANS say that even when a teen’s life is chaotic, and they can’t live at home for various reasons, whether it be from abuse or being kicked out, they often want to stay within their community.

“We hear a lot from teens that they want to stay in Langley and that they want to continue to go to school. They need at least one constant in their lives,” said Alison Cartier, youth housing and support worker for ANS.

With torrential rain pounding Langley and the entire Lower Mainland for more than three weeks now, the possibility that those teens in need of a warm bed can get it, would be one less worry for everyone, said Roberts.