One in three people using emergency shelter services in Simcoe County are youth.
"Most people are fortunate enough never to have to experience homelessness, but for those who do it can be very traumatic experience," Youth Haven executive director Lucy Gowers said this week. "It's hard to escape from, damaging physical and emotional well-being along the way.
"Most homeless youth are like many other kids. They have smartphones, they go to school, they have friends, they go shopping and they want to go to college," she added. "They have dreams."
On any given night, 7,000 homeless youths in Ontario "look to the streets and to buildings, park benches or friends' couches for shelter," Gowers said. "Closer to home, close to 400 at-risk and homeless youth sought help from Youth Haven through our emergency shelter and our outreach offices last year."
Youth Haven recently partnered with the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka to eventually move its long-term transitional housing outside of the emergency shelter and create Simcoe County's first transitional housing dedicated to youth, Gowers said.
"This opportunity will not only allow us to increase the number of transitional beds, but also increase the number of emergency shelter beds at Youth Haven," she said.
The new YMCA site will be built at the former Barrie Central Collegiate site in downtown Barrie.
The Youth Haven organization, which operates a facility on Wellington Street, says homeless youth are often fleeing unsafe situations. Almost 80% of homeless youth reported leaving home because of family conflict, addictions and abuse.
"The impacts of becoming homeless as a youth are numerous and troubling," said Gowers, adding it costs roughly $1,930 a month to house in a youth in a shelter bed.
The longer a youth stays on the streets, the more susceptible they are to exploitation, she said.
"Everyday, we see youths who are struggling to survive," Gowers said.
Since 1987, Youth Haven's mission has been to support youth experiencing homelessness by providing safe shelter, programs and services, in an atmosphere of respect and dignity. They also hope helping homeless youth will make them become successful adults.
Youth Haven offers 24-hour intake, seven days a week, for approximately 21 people aged 16 to 24. The facility also provides food, shelter, programs and care packages for hundreds of young people each year.
The Youth Haven house in downtown Barrie includes 11 beds for those identifying as young men and six beds for those identifying as young women.
"The difference we are making is truly remarkable," Gowers said.
The Youth Haven team also works with the young people on establishing goals and breaking them down into manageable tasks that can be completed in a relatively short period of time. This is helpful to move them forward and gain the resources they need to get back on their feet, and in to permanent housing, Gowers said. They also help them develop good habits to achieve lifelong success, with goal planning and problem solving.
Youth Haven, which also works closely with community groups, teaches life skills, such as cooking and completing other daily tasks, while also offering continuing care, counselling and a health-care clinic.
They also have a housing program to help find young people permanent accomodations, including a RentSmart program, as well as transitional housing.
"Life's challenges don't end when one of our youths move out," she said.