Students from various schools in Langley are coming together to speak on behalf of teens who can’t advocate for themselves.
Some 15 to 20 students across the district have come together to raise attention about the more than 100 Langley youth who are homeless.
Feeling that not many people in the community realize the Gateway of Hope cannot take youth into their shelter, the high school students are putting together a Conversation Café on Wednesday, April 6, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Langley School District boardroom. The café is open to anyone with an interest in learning about youth who find themselves without a home and what the community can do to help.
Among those invited are politicians, the RCMP and youth service providers.
“We really hope this opens the community’s eyes to what’s going on here for anyone who doesn’t already know,” said Brookswood Secondary Grade 11 student Elliot Cluney, one of the student organizers of the café.
“I absolutely had no idea that homeless youth in Langley have nowhere to go. It was actually really upsetting when I learned that,” said Mountain Secondary Grade 11 student Elly Choi, another organizer of the social justice initiative.
“I recently suffered from a really bad cold. I can’t imagine how I would’ve gotten through those grimy winter days without a home to go back to.”
There is no youth shelter in Langley. The nearest ones are in Surrey and Abbotsford, but those are often full. A busy youth shelter in Maple Ridge, called the Iron Horse, just closed its doors after losing federal funding.
Youth advocates and outreach workers have been pleading with municipal and provincial governments to have a small facility with two beds open in Langley to house teens. So far, they said, there hasn’t been the political will to build one.
“I think we are looking after adults but not our most vulnerable population,” said Lara Petrie, Langley School District’s head of instructional services and leadership. She is helping the students organize the awareness campaign.
“I think a lot of people in Langley don’t know youth have nowhere to go. I didn’t know.”
Students involved have met with Encompass Youth Services — which helps at-risk youth connect to services — and learned that 162 teens have sought the services of Encompass.
Youth are the invisible homeless, the group explained.
Many attend school during the day and couch surf at night.
Choi said one Langley youth takes a bus from a Richmond shelter every day to attend school in Langley, his home town.
“Imagine the obstacles this presents to making it to school on time. But the surprising thing was, this youth was only late once during a six-month period,” said Choi.
“A lot of kids don’t self-identify as homeless. They picture a homeless person sleeping on a bench and pushing a shopping cart. Often these kids will couch surf and go to school every day, so they don’t see themselves and don’t want that stigma attached to being homeless,” said Encompass’ Alison Cartier.
“Some bus in from other areas to go to school here because school is the only stable thing in their lives.”
Cartier said getting funding to build a youth shelter is complicated politically.
“There is some challenges of whether this is a federal or provincial issue, but I think we have to stop looking to other governments and look at what we can do as a community,” she said.
Cartier will be at the open house on April 6 but will not be speaking.
“This is totally student-driven and that’s how it should be. The voice of the youth needs to be heard,” she said.
The students organizing the youth homelessness initiative also plan to have 162 students walk along the Bypass to represent the number of teens who don’t have a permanent place to call home or a shelter to go to.