Stop making it worse for homeless students

Stigmatized youth, in particular LGBTQ2+ and indigenous youth, are over-represented in the 2018 Metro Vancouver Youth Homeless Count, published earlier this month. It represents a comprehensive snapshot of youth who are homeless in the Metro Vancouver region.

The report paints a stark landscape about the outcomes faced by youth who are susceptible to marginalization and stigma. The first of its kind, the count was conducted in April 2018 and found at least 681 people aged 13 to 24 homeless in the region.

681 youth is enough to significantly oversubscribe University Hill Secondary, with capacity for 532 students. It’s enough to fill 5 high-capacity skytrain cars.

Let’s not make it worse by also denying them access to education.

In 2017 the Vancouver School Board closed two of the remaining three adult-education sites in Vancouver, leaving only Southview Adult Education Program, a 1.5 hour walk from the downtown core. As we all know and see every day, the expense of public transportation is significant barrier for homeless youth.

A three-hour commute to access education is understandably too difficult for many homeless youth living in the downtown core, where services supporting them are concentrated. It explains the appalling drop in adult-education enrollment since the 2017 closures of the adult education programs at Gladstone Secondary and at Gathering Place Community Centre.

If I am elected, I will work with the city and other trustees to bring back adult education to Carnegie Centre and Gathering Place, where it is most needed by homeless youth and other at-risk persons in the downtown core and DTES.

There are far too many homeless youth in Metro Vancouver, and VSB is unfairly making their lives even harder than it already is. Let’s make sure that the schools that support homeless youth are accessible to them so they can have a chance to fulfil their graduation requirement and have a fighting chance in the future. We owe it to them as a caring community, and we owe it to ourselves as taxpayers who know that education is one of the best ways to lift people out of lifelong poverty.

Who are homeless youth in Vancouver

46% of homeless youth identified as indigenous, 26% as LGBTQ2+, 48% as female, 40% as male, and 20% as another gender. The majority entered homelessness by 16 and 58% of school-age homeless youth were attending school. 52% were fleeing family conflict and 58% can not access housing because of the cost of rent.

Although homelessness on its own is not a central concern for school trustees, becoming homeless before the completion of secondary education presents an additional barrier to completing the educational requirement for nearly every escape route from lifelong poverty. It is the role of VSB to support all youth who have not yet achieved grade 12.

We know that family conflict was reported by 52% as the reason for leaving home. It is one of the largest contributing factors, From my experience as a trans rights advocate, I know that LGBTQ2+ youth face high risk of being rejected by their family because of who they are.

Family response to their children’s sexual orientation or gender identity plays a real part in youth becoming homeless. As many as 1/3 of transgender youth who declare their gender identity to parents are rejected by their family. The Huffington Post tells a grim story about the root cause of LGBT homelessness:

The #1 reason for homelessness among LGBT youth is that they ran away because of family rejection. The #2 reason is that they were thrown out for being LGBT
— Huffington Post

Recent news about Bill Whatcott traveling from Saskatchewan to Vancouver for a week of hate-filled flyering expressing his displeasure about my being a candidate for school board illustrate where some of of LGBTQ2+ youth homelessness lies: families with very strong and rigid belief systems about sex and gender assign moral value to gender identity or sexual orientation (SOGI), and have responses to their children expressing diverse sexuality or gender that are more likely to cause their children to become homeless.

 Gathering Place Adult Learning Centre was closed by VSB in 2017 to save money.

Gathering Place Adult Learning Centre was closed by VSB in 2017 to save money.

Let's not make this worse than it already is… Let’s stop making it difficult for homeless youth to finish their K12 education.

If I am elected to the Vancouver School Board:

I will work to ensure Vancouver once again has accessible adult education programs that meet the needs of homeless youth so they can finish their education.

I will work to ensure all Vancouver schools are safe and inclusive for everyone. I will work to ensure youth always a safe place to turn to at school when youth need help.

If students become become homeless I will work to ensure they are supported in their school whenever possible.

I will work with city council and with provincial lawmakers to advocate thatyouth still accessing K12 education be prioritized by organizations providing shelter.

Nobody should risk homelessness because somebody in their home makes it unsafe for them, and whoever experiences homelessness should be helped to get out of this terrifying situation. Schools have a powerful role to play to address this and I will be there for at-risk youth.

Read the Count