A group of high school students from across Langley and Aldergrove who are lobbying for a youth homeless shelter found a receptive ear at Langley Township council’s April 11 meeting.
The students have been working on the issue on their own time this past year.
Their delegation also followed a successful “Conversation Cafe” held on April 6 at the Langley School Board office. This public forum, organized and led by students, attracted about 120 people.
Dozens of teens showed up as well as members of Langley City and Township councils, school district administrators and trustees, Langley’s outreach workers, a youth shelter worker from Surrey, concerned Langley citizens and teachers and parents.
Students from R.E. Mountain, Aldergrove Secondary, Brookswood and Vanguard formed the task force on youth homelessness.
In their research they discovered there are up to 200 teens in Langley who didn’t have a home to go to at various times in their lives last year.
Students led the conversations at each table, with topics ranging from whose responsibility is youth homelessness to what are the future impacts of youth who are homeless.
What the group found upsetting and has moved them to action is that Langley doesn’t have an emergency shelter for youth. The Gateway of Hope can only take people who are 19 years and older.
If teenagers find themselves in crisis with nowhere to go, the nearest shelters are in Surrey and Abbotsford.
But if they identify Langley as their home and this is where their school is, it becomes an another obstacle to overcome, said the group.
The delegation at Township’s April 11 meeting noted that it was difficult for teens who are having serious issues in their home to access support workers, and that there were no official shelter beds for the temporarily homeless youths in Langley to access. In comparison, there are 66 beds for youths in neighboring Surrey and Abbotsford.
Ideally, the group said there should be two sites, one in Langley City and another in Aldergrove, providing up to eight beds for Langley youths.
They asked Langley Township to consider donating a space, storefront or residential, where youths could get help on-site.
Coun. Charlie Fox said that he and two other councillors had attended the Conversation Cafe and that councillors came away impressed with the “well run and facilitated discussion.”
In response to Fox’s questions about what the provincial Ministry of Children and Families Development position was on the proposal, Loren Roberts, the operations manager of Encompass Support Services Society, said the ministry currently “provides a street outreach worker and they are talking to us, but when it comes to funding we need the whole community behind this.”
Roberts said the service model is still under discussion and options such as partnership with the Salvation Army were possible.
Coun. Kim Richter said the figure of 162 homeless youths in Langley “is very shocking” and asked whether eight beds would be enough.
Roberts responded that the number was over the year and varied from day to day, adding that, “Eight beds is better than none.”
The students intend to speak to Langley City council and also plan to line Langley Bypass with 162 students in May, to illustrate how many Langley youth have found themselves looking for safe places to lay their head.
-with files from Monique Tamminga