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Category "homelessness"

12Jan

‘The poverty children face is often hidden from us,’ say agencies helping the 20 per cent of B.C. kids who are poor

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As she bounces nine-month-old Delilah on her knee, Amber Hawse pauses reflectively before answering a question about what she thinks she and her baby will be doing in five years.

Hawse, 20, hopes by then to have graduated from college and to have a job as a special-needs support worker. Delilah will be in kindergarten. And they will live together in their own place with enough money for food, basic expenses and peace of mind.

Her goals may seem modest, but the reality is that 20 per cent of children in B.C. live in poverty and their families struggle to provide the necessities of life, especially in Metro Vancouver with its sky-high cost of living.

Hawse knows this well, as a foster child who lurched from home to home, some of them abusive. At age 16, she was living on her own in an apartment run by a social service agency, learning to budget her meagre government payments while attending high school.

The well-spoken, thoughtful young woman hopes Delilah will not be trapped in a similar cycle. She wants to provide her daughter with financial and emotional stability — which starts with them remaining together.

“I grew up with no dad and no mom, so I don’t want to let her grow up with (being) in care and getting her abused. I want her to know she is always loved,” Hawse said, fighting back tears.


Amber Hawse, 20, with nine-month-old daughter Delilah at Aunt Leah’s in New Westminster.

Poverty and other challenges facing youth, particularly in Metro Vancouver’s inner cities, were the focus of a recent brainstorming session during which dozens of service agencies and community members came together to discuss the root causes and possible solutions to these often multi-generational crises.

“People can easily become immune to seeing homeless people on the streets, but the poverty that children face is often hidden from us,” said Jennifer Johnstone, president of Central City Foundation, which organized the Hope Dialogue Series session. “And that makes (the depth of) child poverty a surprise to people sometimes.”

The Downtown Eastside has become the focal point, with many drawn there by its plethora of low-rent buildings and free food services. But poverty exists in many other pockets of Metro Vancouver, and affects the children of struggling parents as well as children without parents.

172,550 poor kids in B.C.

The statistics, say Central City, are stark:

• One in five of all B.C. children — 172,550 kids — lives in poverty, and that jumps to one in three for off-reserve Indigenous children.

• Nearly half of recent child immigrants are impoverished.

• Half of children in poverty are raised by single parents, mostly by mothers.

• Youth aging out of foster care are 200 times more likely to become homeless before the age of 25.

And research shows that disadvantaged children can be delayed mentally and physically due to a lack of nutrition, are more likely to struggle in school and end up unemployed, and are more prone to suffer from addictions and mental illness.

The trend is improving, though, as a quarter of all B.C. youth were impoverished a decade ago, compared to 20 per cent now, according to First Call’s annual Child Poverty Report Card. B.C.’s child poverty rate has been higher than the Canadian average for at least two decades, although that gap is narrowing.

Some of B.C.’s recent improvements can be credited to the new Child Tax Benefit introduced by Ottawa in 2016, and also promising are recent commitments by provincial and federal governments to adopt poverty-reduction plans, increase affordable housing, boost the minimum wage and introduce affordable daycare.

But there is more work to do to try to overcome the systemic marginalization that has led to this poverty — such as colonialism and residential schools that have brought a disproportionate number of Indigenous people into the Downtown Eastside, Johnstone said.


Jennifer Johnstone, president and CEO of Central City Foundation.

Arlen Redekop

The October brainstorming session, which included groups such as the Urban Native Youth Association and the Aboriginal Mother Centre, was just the beginning of a very important conversation, she added.

“When we come together and see possibilities, that is the hope for change,” Johnstone said. “The children are the stewards of our future.”

Schools are more than education

Schools increasingly provide more than education to impoverished youth, especially in inner cities. But during long school breaks, at-risk children can be left without enough food, fun activities or emotional support to keep them safe during the day while their parents are working.

To bridge this gap, a unique organization called KidSafe runs full-day camps during Christmas holidays, March break and the summer at six east Vancouver schools, so 450 vulnerable children have a safe place to go each day for three healthy meals, fun activities and continued access to important services.


Children at a KidSafe camp.

“The (camps) provide continuity for things like nutrition, healthy adult relationships, just somebody having eyes on a child,” said KidSafe executive director Quincey Kirschner, who attended the Hope Dialogue session.

“The demand is ever-increasing, and it is so awful to not have enough resources to be able to provide service to all the kids and families who need it.”

Poverty is one of the reasons some children are referred by teachers and others to KidSafe, but there are other factors as well, such as emotional vulnerability, she added.

For six years, Krista Ericson has relied on the three seasonal camps to help with her four children, who are in Grades 1 through 6 at Grandview/¿uuqinak’uuh Elementary in east Vancouver. The camps provide much-needed respite for the single mother, who fostered and then adopted the four Indigenous siblings who have a range of diagnoses that include fetal alcohol syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.


Krista Ericson at Grandview school in Vancouver. (Arlen Redekop / PNG staff photo)

“The support during the (school) breaks is life-saving to me,” said Ericson, who added it is difficult to keep the active, high-needs children at home all day. “To think of trying to find out-of-school care for four children, I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t afford full-time camps in the summer.”

She does not work outside the home, mainly because her days are consumed with hospital appointments and other commitments for the children.

Ericson lives in subsidized housing, shops for food that is on sale and in bulk, and is grateful for a myriad of programs — ranging from Backpack Buddies, which provides food to families for the weekends, to charity hampers and donated gifts at Christmas — that help her make ends meet.

When her children see other people with cellphones or trendy clothing, Ericson has her oft-repeated line: “I tell my kids, ‘That’s their family, and we do it differently in our family.’” She also uses the opportunity to teach her children that, although they live a modest life, they are better off than other students who don’t have enough food to eat or a safe place to sleep at night.

One of her top priorities is to include a lot of Indigenous culture in their home lives.

Indigenous culture creates ‘doorway into wellness’

After the brainstorming session in October, Central City compiled a summary of what they heard from the 100 people in attendance, and found that programs with cultural components, such as connections with elders and Indigenous languages, have been successful because they create “a doorway into wellness and community building.”

Other initiatives that are making a positive difference, the attendees said, were those that connect youth with relatives and meaningful people in their lives, as well as programs in which non-profits and service agencies work together to provide more comprehensive support to children.

The Central City summary also determined what isn’t working: Governments too often fund programs that treat problems once they start, rather than preventing them; a lack of affordable housing can lead to poverty and families losing their children; and there isn’t enough transition planning for youth aging out of care, who experience disproportionately high levels of mental illness, substance use and unemployment.

Aunt Leah’s Place, a New Westminster charity, has been helping children who age out of care for three decades, but 10 years ago it added a new element: soliciting financial support from foundations, corporations, governments and others to obtain specialized housing.


Aunt Leah’s executive director Sarah Stewart in New Westminster.

“That was done based on trends we saw around more and more young people who are aging out becoming homeless,” said president and CEO Sarah Stewart. “What we didn’t plan for is the opioid crisis — that’s been a double whammy for these young people. … They are dealing with daily grief connected to people they know who have died.”

Aunt Leah’s provided services to 345 youth last year — 41 foster children under age 19, 208 who had aged out, and 96 of their babies and children.

“The reality for youth aging out of foster care today is a lot of hardship,” said Stewart, who also attended the Hope Dialogue session.

There has been positive change in the last few years, such as free tuition and financial support for foster children to attend post-secondary schools. The provincial government has also expanded a program that will fund more life-skills training for these youth.

But, Stewart said, more subsidized housing is needed, along with better co-ordination between government agencies — such as education, health and child welfare — to look out for this population.

‘Just do what parents do’

The key to supporting youth coming out of care is simple, she argues — just do what parents do.

“Aunt Leah’s tries to replicate what families are doing for their kids,” Stewart said. “Parents are providing tuition, transportation, food, housing well into their 20s, so that is what we are doing. And that is what government should be doing.”

Hawse, though, was cast adrift. After being asked to leave her last foster home, the then-16-year-old moved into an apartment run by Aunt Leah’s, where teenage foster children live on their own but have access to support and training programs.


Amber Hawse, 20, with daughter Delilah at Aunt Leah’s in New Westminster.

“For the first couple of nights that I was by myself, I cried because I wasn’t used to being in a house alone,” she said. “It’s very lonely.”

She received government funding of $70 a week for groceries, and learned to buy food on sale and collect grocery store points to get items for free. She also worked part-time while completing high school — a remarkable accomplishment, as less than half of foster children in B.C. graduate from Grade 12.

When she turned 19, Hawse was newly pregnant but had to leave her Aunt Leah’s apartment funded specifically for foster kids. She moved into emergency housing for several months before Aunt Leah’s could offer her a room in a building for new mothers.

She is getting by, for now, able to buy food, diapers and other necessities with the employment insurance and federal child tax she is collecting while off work with her baby. She hopes to return to her job at a local daycare, and to attend college next year to become a community and classroom support worker.

“I’ve been through a lot,” Hawse says. “But there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Some solutions for the future

Central City’s Johnstone says there are reasons to be optimistic. For example, her organization, which is a major sponsor of Aunt Leah’s, is also backing a unique new youth initiative in Surrey that will have a school program and government social workers located in the same place as a sort of one-stop shop for vulnerable kids.

And there are other organizations, such as Vancouver Native Health, launching innovative programs in the Downtown Eastside designed to keep families together, she said.

The summary from the brainstorming session came up with some solutions to work toward, although nearly everyone interviewed for this story admits there is no obvious quick fix to the deep-rooted problem of child poverty.

The goals for the agencies include expanding programs to support the family as a whole, not just the child alone; enlisting graduates of youth programs to return as mentors; and creating more hubs where multiple services can be offered in one place to at-risk families.

At Family Services of Greater Vancouver, many clients in the family preservation program are parents trying to keep their kids after the children’s ministry documented some type of child protection concern. Staff help them with a myriad of things, ranging from housing, daycare and community resources, to help with trauma, domestic violence or addictions.

“For many of our families, poverty is an issue and that becomes a barrier for everything. They don’t have money for housing, food or your basic needs,” said Susan Walker, a family preservation manager, adding that stress affects everything from going to school to having a healthy family relationship. “Poverty stops people from moving forward.”


Karen Dickenson Smith (right), director of specialized family supports for Family Services of Greater Vancouver and Susan Walker, manager of clinic services for family preservation.

The agency, which also attended the Hope Dialogue session, has joined with others to advocate for major changes. Karen Dickenson Smith, director of specialized family supports, said these include embedding support workers into more “creative” types of housing, larger subsidized homes to allow extended families to live together, better compensation for foster parents, and higher wages in the social services sector to reduce turnover and ensure continuity of care for youth.

“System change takes time. We’ve seen some really encouraging developments, but we are a ways off and there is a lot of work to do,” said Dickenson Smith.

Added her colleague, Walker: “Poverty is not going to end overnight, but if you have subsidized housing and people are given the opportunity to get the work they need to do in life to get a job, that can allow children stability.”

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20Sep

Tent-city campers to be barred from Goldstream Provincial Park

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A police command centre has set up at Goldstream Provincial Park in Langford on Vancouver Island as homeless campers forced from green space in Saanich fear they are once again being pushed out.

Organizer Chrissy Brett said the Environment Ministry arrived after 5 p.m. Wednesday night and closed the park to all but registered campers. She said the park will be closed at 11 a.m. today to everyone, just two days after the campers arrived. Police had yet to confirm this Thursday morning.


Homeless campers at Goldstream Provincial Park on Sept. 19.

DARREN STONE, VICTORIA TIMES COLONIST /

PNG

Langford Mayor Stew Young signalled that his community would not put out the welcome mat for homeless campers who moved to Goldstream park on Tuesday evening.

A frustrated Young said he received hundreds of complaints by Wednesday from residents who are concerned about break-ins and drug use.

“The public is absolutely fed up. They know these are not just campers looking for a home. They’re in there stealing. They’re doing drugs. They leave needles everywhere,” said Young. “I can tell you, parents are already telling me their kids will never go in there again because you’ll never find all the needles, all the drugs and all the opioids.”

Young said he was “very disappointed” he didn’t get a call from the provincial government to let him know the campers were moving to the provincial park on the edge of his municipality.

“Housing Minister Selina Robinson was on the news talking about it. But no courtesy call to me saying ‘Guess what? We’re actually paying for them to go to a provincial park.’ If that’s their solution for homelessness, we have a really big problem, a bigger problem than I thought,” said Young.

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The government provides free camping at B.C. Parks to people who receive disability assistance through the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. The campers said they are planning to spend the next two weeks in the park to regroup and recuperate.

The government should have been better prepared after a homeless camp on the Victoria courthouse lawn cost taxpayers $3 million in legal fees and site cleanup, said Young. It’s estimated the tent city at Regina Park will cost Saanich taxpayers $1 million.

“The province should have been out in front of this in the first place,” said Young. “They’re not being responsible. Before they started moving people to a provincial park, there should have been some dialogue with police, council, my staff and myself. We got caught.”

Young has met with West Shore RCMP and senior staff to consider what to do to keep the community safe.

“Whoever thought of this is an absolute idiot,” he fumed.

A statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said B.C. Parks staff will monitor the situation at Goldstream Park.

“While we understand this is not an ideal location, it is a safer location than the highway right of way where the campers were living previously.”

The goal is to get people into shelters and long-term housing.

“Solving this will require partnerships with regional and local government leaders to build appropriate and affordable housing. Unfortunately, while we already have 2,000 new modular homes in development across B.C., only one site for 21 units was identified in Victoria, and no other local governments within the CRD have identified land where we could build these homes.”

Young said staff from four ministries — Municipal Affairs and Housing, Mental Health and Addiction, the Attorney General, and Social Development and Poverty Reduction — should form a provincial action assessment team that goes out every day to help marginalized people.

“There’s so much money out there. Get out of your office and go work for these people. I don’t need a thousand people working in an office when the problem is out here, or in Saanich or in Victoria. Help them. Make sure they get the help they need. Find out where their families are,” said Young, who called the situation a crisis.

Putting 100 modular units in the middle of a neighbourhood for five years is stupid, said Young.

“They’re not going to solve the problem long-term. Build proper housing and build it faster and do it all over the province.”

The RCMP will do their job and uphold the law, said Young.

“They will arrest people if they are doing drugs. If anything is going on, they will uphold the law.”

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Dean Fortin, executive director of Pacifica Housing, said outreach workers did more than 100 vulnerability assessments when the campers lived in Regina Park.

“These aren’t a bunch of advocates with social privilege trying to raise a point. The vast majority of individuals who made up the camp were suffering from mental health and addictions. They are already classified by the ministry as people with disabilities. They have many challenges.”

More than 10 people from Regina Park have been placed in supportive housing, said Fortin.

Outreach staff will go to Goldstream, meet with the campers, understand their needs and see if they can help move them into permanent housing.

“It’s not a bad thing to have gone to Goldstream because they’re not under the constant threat of being displaced and made to move on. … The ability to just have two weeks of peace, and for us, as a service provider, that’s two weeks of us working to find a more permanent solution,” said Fortin.

Earlier, at Goldstream Park on Wednesday morning, sunlight streamed through the massive trees. The campers were enjoying their peaceful surroundings.

“It was so quiet last night, I heard an owl hoot,” said Lynne Hibak.

“I heard other people snoring,” said Lance Larsen. “I never heard that at the other camp because there was too much noise and it was drowned out by all the activity. If you have really good hearing, in the dead of night, you can hear the water trickling and the hiss of the waterfall.”

“No window warriors yelling at us,” said Don, who didn’t want his last name in the newspaper.

The campers said they were driven to the park by supporters.

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