Project is youth-led and will provide housing, supports, and job opportunities for up to 30 unhoused youth
In late January, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness (GVCEH) formally announced the launch of a new social enterprise model that will provide housing, services, and job opportunities for up to 30 unhoused youth living in Greater Victoria. The project is youth-led and represents the culmination of over three years of planning, first by the City of Victoria, and then by GVCEH in partnership with BC Housing.
GVCEH Research Project Manager Jarvis Neglia says that the ball really started rolling in 2016 when Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps saw the significant overrepresentation of youth in the latest Greater Victoria Homelessness Point-In-Time Count. The survey also showed that many of the adult members of the city’s unhoused community had been on and off the streets since they were youth or young adults.
Over the next couple of years, the city worked to create and fund a Greater Victoria youth task force that would engage with unhoused youth and attempt to come up with solutions.
“They’ve received all sorts of funding from the Victoria Foundation and the Capital Regional District to kind of engage with youth with lived expertise, their own sector expertise, and come up with sort of like a roadmap for preventing youth homelessness and addressing youth homelessness in Victoria,” Neglia told the Martlet.
However, despite the creation of a roadmap to combating youth homelessness in the city, it wasn’t until this past summer that a tangible plan of action began to form.
Neglia says that GVCEH, through their work as a service provider to the Topaz Park encampment, began to visualize a way to combat youth homelessness that would take into account the roadmap developed by the city.
When the encampment at Topaz was closed and its residents moved into temporary housing, GVCEH still had some money set aside for service provision and came to an agreement with the city, BC Housing, and several service providers to use the money to create a youth housing initiative.
Neglia says that from the very beginning they wanted this project to be youth-led. To facilitate this, Neglia and GVCEH Prevention of Youth Homelessness Coordinator Emily Jackson put together a team of five youth with lived experience of homelessness who, over the course of six months, designed the physical space, a former commercial lodging dormitory, into a relatively open area that would feel more welcoming for the residents. Once residents are moved in, they are able to design their own space, including picking their own furniture.
While the residents will run the building for the most part, GVCEH will have one staff member on site for every seven residents at all times in case any issues arise. Additionally, the GVCEH has hired a paramedic who will be on site several days a week. Wraparound services, such as mental health and addiction services, will also be provided on a person-by-person basis.
Neglia says that all staff are required to have housing experience, a connection to homelessness whether through lived experiences or family connections, and additional skills in areas such as the arts, humanities, sciences, trades, and agriculture.
GVCEH’s primary goal is to provide the youth opportunities for advancement in areas of their interest. This will hopefully provide them with the skills to transition themselves into a career or occupation of their choosing. Neglia says that if none of the staff have expertise in a resident’s area of interest, GVCEH will seek out outside experts in the field.
“Rather than a social worker saying, ‘okay, you need to attend work for these days, and then you have to go to school and do this,’” said Neglia. “It’s more like if a youth says, ‘you know, I’m really wanting to help people then […] [a staff or an expert] can say, ‘hey, I think these are the different options, you could go to school, you could get employment through this job, you go to this training program, you can do all these things.’”
There are several UVic connections amongst the experts being brought in by the GVCEH including Colette Smart, a clinical neuropsychologist and assistant professor of psychology, and Olav Krigolson, a neuroeconomics professor.
Neglia is careful to say, however, that this social enterprise model is not geared towards fixing the gaps in the youth in care system that leads to so many of the unhoused youth in the city and across the province. He says that there are many other groups, such as the BC Coalition to End Youth Homelessness, that are working in that vein of activism. What the youth enterprise model will allow its participants to do is to seek reform through their research and experiences as well as through local activism.
Only two weeks into the program, Neglia says that some of the youth have already thrown their energy into helping others.
“When there was the cold weather snap, a lot of the youth were very concerned, especially about elderly people sleeping in the park,” said Neglia. “So they were really instrumental in being able to set up 10 emergency weather response shelter beds in the cafeteria of our housing site.”
So while it’s still the early days of the initiative, Neglia is optimistic about the future.
“I’m very, very impressed by our staff so far, and with our residents, we’ve gotten some really amazing people,” said Neglia. “I’m really excited.”