ACSRC’s Open Door study published in Curb Magazine
Posted on July 22, 2014 by Christopher Thrall
Curb Magazine published several articles from the ACSRC in their latest “Boomtowns” issue.
The Hidden Cost: Youth Homelessness in Rural Alberta
by Lars Hallstrom, Wynn Coates, Solina Richter and Pushpanjali Dashora
Curb Magazine Issue 5.1, 2014
Camrose, Alberta is a regional hub of 17,000 people, located approximately 95 kilometres southeast of Edmonton. As with much of Alberta, Camrose experienced strong population and economic growth throughout the 2000s. While many people see Camrose as a thriving and picturesque community with significant resources, including a University of Alberta campus (Augustana), recreational facilities and numerous employers, the city is also a place for youth homelessness, underemployment of youth and transitions between smaller rural communities and cities such as Edmonton and Calgary.
In the summer of 2013, the Alberta Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities, in collaboration with the Camrose Open Door and researchers at the University of Alberta, conducted a youth homelessness and housing needs assessment to establish the nature, scope and potential opportunities and challenges facing rural homeless youth in Camrose. With funding provided by the Government of Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy, the research team interviewed service providers and held focus groups with youth who were either currently utilizing or had at some point utilized relevant services within the Camrose community service network.
The needs assessment found that while the population of youth (16-24) and young people, as well as those working in low-income jobs, is substantial in Camrose, both groups are often overlooked as being at risk for homelessness. Many people associate homelessness with panhandling and city streets (to the point that some are unaware that rural homelessness even exists); however, it is a real problem for many rural communities.
Couch surfing epitomizes the “hidden” or “invisible” character of homelessness in Camrose and the surrounding area. Youths aged 16 to 24 who are unable to live with their parents or guardians may become highly transient, moving from residence to residence. These citizens are increasingly vulnerable to longer-term homelessness that is compounded by an insufficient local supply of affordable rental housing. This population faces a number of additional challenges and service requirements due to mental health and addiction problems, exposure to abuse and family violence, lack of educational and employment opportunities and/or past conflict with the law.
Other factors compound the difficulties of this group. While a number of community organizations assist marginalized groups, their work is not always recorded using any amalgamated standard. As a result, some of these activities go unrecorded and/or personally assumed, such as driving clients to appointments. This further increases the “invisibility” of this population and the fact that youth homelessness is not seen as a real problem. As one local social service provider commented, “When I went to work in this job, I was absolutely astounded that there’s this ‘underbelly’ in this community… all of the[se] young people who are in such dire straits … I would not have known or thought that possible about this community. It’s a very beautiful community; everything looks nice and clean.”
The research team offered three recommendations to the City to improve youth homelessness in Camrose:
1) Systematic School Outreach – Schools are one of the few existing venues where youth and their parents or guardians can be “legitimately” brought together. Teachers and school administrators can provide the physical location for potential engagement with families, while service providers can provide the skills and tools to make this engagement meaningful.
2) Public Transportation – The need for public transportation in Camrose was raised by nearly every single service provider and service user. This lack is exacerbated by the distances between service providers, particularly for those who may not have a driver’s license (even if a car was affordable).
3) City Planning – Service providers saw a need for a Camrose city social planner. This position would have to be sufficiently empowered and funded so as not to suffer the fate of the existing Social Development Committee, which, while overflowing with knowledgeable and well-intentioned membership, was given no funding to carry out its plans.
The Alberta Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities is a joint initiative of the University of Alberta – Augustana Campus and the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences. The full results of the needs assessment were compiled into a final report available at www.acsrc.ca.
You can read more of the ACSRC’s research in the latest issue of Curb Magazine.
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