We have all seen the man sitting on the sidewalk at the corner of a busy intersection. The temperature has dipped below zero, yet still he waits there, insufficiently clothed for the frosty month of November, begging for money. He is cold, hungry, and homeless.
Recently, Arthur met with Ruby Lynch, a case worker at Peterborough’s Youth Emergency Shelter (Y.E.S.) to discuss the side of homelessness that society is much less exposed to – the invisible experiences of youth on the streets.
“They end up at Y.E.S. for a lot of different reasons,” Ruby explained during an interview in her office at the shelter. “Quite often, there are major problems at home. I see a lot of alcohol and drug addictions. Mental health issues are becoming more common. It could also be trouble with the law. But sometimes, the person just doesn’t want to attend school. They think they are grown-up enough, and as a result they get kicked out of home by their parents. After sleeping on a friend’s couch for a few weeks, they come here.”
It has been estimated that approximately one-third of Canada’s homeless population is made up of people between the ages of 16 and 24, but the National Homelessness Initiative states that there is no reliable way to pinpoint an exact figure. In Peterborough, the Youth Emergency Shelter provides safe, temporary housing to an average of fifteen people per night, a total of approximately 5500 bed-nights annually.
The shelter first opened its doors in 2002, and since that time has accepted young men, women, and families 24hrs/day, 365 days per year. “Right now, we only have one male bed left and a few female beds empty,” Ruby noted. “You never really know when people are going to show up. The last month and a half, we’ve been packed.”
One of the biggest challenges for youth facing homelessness is finding a permanent place of residence. Many youth who stay at Y.E.S. are under the age of eighteen, and as a result it is compulsory with the government and shelter’s regulations that they attend high school during the day. In addition, the youth in question must also be searching for somewhere to live once they leave the shelter. But because of past trouble with adolescent renters, many landlords refuse to allow anyone around the age of sixteen to sign a lease. Furthermore, most landlords require first and last payments upon agreeing to rent out a room. A youth who qualifies for welfare from Ontario Works may not be granted their assistance money in advance, which makes convincing a potential landlord of financial security a struggle. Also, the housing situation in Peterborough is currently sluggish, and youth have a hard time finding rent that they can realistically afford.
The Youth Emergency Shelter itself also faces several challenges, the pinnacle of which is meeting material demands. Kawartha Food Share is in partnership with Y.E.S. and donates food, while financial support is given by the City of Peterborough, United Way, Ontario Trillium Foundation, St. Peter’s Secondary School, Holy Cross Secondary School, The Navy Club of Peterborough, amongst others. However, certain goods, such as deodorant and toothbrushes, always seem to be lacking. With winter well on its way, the Youth Emergency Shelter has updated its wish list to include items such as: seasonal clothing, cotton socks and undergarments, t-shirts, hoodies, new bed linens (when clients leave the shelter, they can opt to take their bedding with them), feminine hygiene products, diapers, as well as gift cards for local grocery and clothing stores.
Arthur’s interview with Y.E.S. case worker Ruby Lynch concluded with her statement that, “I enjoy [my job]. You get to meet all sorts of personalities. But homelessness is a serious problem in Peterborough, and the number of homeless youth on the streets is, unfortunately, on the increase.”