Wood's Homes Blog

Youth homelessness and family support during COVID-19

June 04, 2020
By Sarah Shaw, Wood's Homes Lethbridge Team Leader
Youth homelessness and family support during COVID-19

Wood’s Homes is an organization made up of caring individuals who want to help and support young people who are in need. Sometimes, these caregivers are a sliver of light for a youth who see darkness. The youth who come into our services come from a vast majority of difficult life experiences, and these young people have often gone through situations you would not wish onto your worst enemy. In some cases, hope is low and self-esteem is non-existent; however, connecting with programs can have an incredible impact on these young people. In some instances, lives are saved.” – Corinne Marshall, Wood's Homes Family Support Counsellor in Lethbridge

Wood’s Homes Lethbridge Emergency Youth Shelter (now known as THE CORE) first opened its doors in 2003, as a place to support young people who needed a safe place to stay and support with basic needs. Youth come to the shelter for various reasons, with the biggest being family conflict, which often results from past trauma, mental health, sexual orientation or gender identity, or substance use, among other things. Wood’s Homes’ Youth and Family Counsellors work with youth and their families to provide mediation and access to resources in an effort to help youth return to the family home with a more stable relationship.

In 2018, in partnership with A Way Home Canada, the Family and Natural Supports program was created and bridged the gap for youth and their families. The primary goal of the Family and Natural Supports program is to reduce youth homelessness and ensure the best possible outcomes for young people. This is done through in-home supports working on family mediation and conflict resolution with youth and their families, as well as working to connect the youth with school resources, employment opportunities, etc. Our Family Support Counsellor also works with youth to identify and build up relationships with adults around them, whether this be family, teachers, volunteer coordinators, etc., as a relationship with one healthy adult can be tremendously impactful for youth. This program has helped support 32 youth reduce the time spent in our youth shelter or divert them from needing to access the shelter at all.

During the current turmoil with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an increased need for support from youth and their families. With families spending more time together with no school, working from home or being out of work, and not being able to see friends, there is an increased risk for family conflict. Without support, this could result in behaviour outbursts, family violence or youth being kicked out of the home. Especially during this time, being without a home is even more dangerous for youth. Not having a safe place to stay often means that youth have to couch surf and/or increasing their exposure to the virus, among increased risks of drug use and violence. Families often call our shelter at their wits end, feeling defeated and thinking the only option is to have their child leave the home.

This is where our Family Support Counsellor (FSC) steps in.

The FSC then meets with the youth and/or their families over phone or video to determine the source of the conflict, and provides strategies and resources to help ‘calm the storm’. The FSC and staff from the shelter work together to provide phone calls for these families to help support with real-time issues that may come up. As we also know, this is a time of increased stress due to financial/resource struggles, so we’ve also supported youth and their families in the form of food, cell phones and minutes, personal care items and educational activities dropped off at their door to ease this stress. Through this work, we’ve been able to reduce or divert eight youth from experiencing homelessness in the past month.

During this pandemic, many families are feeling stress and anxiety. Add in family dynamic issues, substance use and many of the other issues families face on a day-to-day basis, and you can see how youth could end up without somewhere safe to stay. We are here to help and keep youth safe.

Over the past year, we’ve been working closely with a youth and her family. We first met this youth at the youth shelter and over time helped her reintegrate into her family through the Family and Natural Supports program. Upon graduation, this youth was asked what the biggest change has been for her. Her response was: “My attitude towards life and my motivation has changed. When I first came to Wood’s, I just didn’t care. Now I actually have meaning to my life.”

This is what we are here for.