'Youth homelessness is largely hidden': Fundraiser aims to stop kids living on the street
LONDON, ONT. -- Driving down Talbot St. in St. Thomas Ont., it's easy to see how serious the homelessness issue has become.
However youth homelessness looks a little different.
"It's typically in the form of couch surfing," says Kyle Rolph, manager of the Upper Room youth emergency shelter.
"We have kids sleeping under playground equipment, between dumpsters, and they've been in our backyard at times."
Rolph and his team at Youth For Christ (YFC) organized a Coldest Night of The Year (CNOY) fundraiser, and surpassed their goal of $20,000.
Lisa Yates was the top fundraiser, walking in support of her grandson.
"He's only 18 and has living on the streets for four years," says Yates, who raised him since he was two years old.
"There is no affordable housing available to them, when you have mental health and addiction issues -- which he does -- they are not interested in paying rent. St. Thomas has a huge drug culture and problem and my daughter and I are trying hard to make an impact."
Yates wanted to raise as much money as possible to ensure the Upper Room continues to have services available should her grandson decide to reach out.
YFC doesn't get much in the way of government funding so it relies on community, family and local business support.
Amanda Zavitz put a team of walkers together for her local restaurant.
"You do see a bit of it (homelessness) when you are driving downtown," says Zavitz, who owns Country Charm Cafe.
"We have a daughter who is 14 and a son who is 17 so this is a charity we want to support. We are getting a group together with our toques and buttons on and going to have some fun with it."
The target group is 16-24 year-olds to keep them away from the other adult shelters.
Rolph says they can host up to six young people at a time.
"Family breakdown relationships and violence in the home vast is majority of the reason kids end up here," says Rolph.
"It's not kids mad at their mom cause they can’t play their XBOX, that's not the kids we have here. It's serious issues in the home and they feel the only way to escape that is to take off."
For the past five years, the Upper Room has given them a place to get them warm, safe, fed and get things sorted out. They then connect them with community partners to take the next steps.
The money raised from this year's CNOY walk will go to keeping the doors open, staffing and supplies that we need to support youth when they stay overnight.