Once youths turn 16, the government of Canada is no longer obliged to provide them with financial aid. It’s one reason why 13 Queen’s law students have chosen to live outside without any resources to take part in the national campaign dubbed 5 Days for the Homeless.
Twenty-four other Canadian universities are participating, including the University of Alberta and the University of Guelph.
Since Sunday, students have camped outside of Stauffer Library, living solely off of food donations.
Participants hope the event will raise awareness about youth homelessness in Kingston.
So far, the group has raised $2,700, with a goal of reaching $7,000 for the Kingston Youth Shelter. This money will go towards renovating bedrooms and bathrooms.
Jason Beaubiah, the director of the shelter, said the major challenge to combating youth homelessness in Kingston is the lack of affordable housing. There are no other youth shelters in Kingston, which means the shelter is busy, he said.
“You have to go east of Ottawa to find one, or west to Whitby,” he said.
The shelter provides emergency housing for youth aged 16 to 24, and offers support, counseling, life training skills and food in a safe environment.
Having worked with the shelter for the past eight years, Beaubiah has noticed homelessness steadily increase.
“The main challenge is finding a place that is affordable,” Beaubiah said. “Kingston has the lowest vacancy rate than any other place in Ontario with the average bachelor going for $550.”
The root cause of youth homelessness is growing up in unstable homes, he said, adding that after Children’s Aid intervenes at 16, teenagers often don’t know where to go. Beaubiah said that youth require a stable place to live in order to address other important issues affecting them.
“There are so many issues that the youth are facing — sometimes it’s addiction,” he said. “Until they have a stable place to be, they can’t deal with these issues.”
Hayley Pitcher, one of the event participants, said a troubled family life is one of the main causes of youth homelessness. “They’re running away from a hard family life,” Pitcher, JD ’14, said. “I couldn’t imagine having to choose between being homeless or living in a horrible family situation.”
She said it’s important to donate to a shelter, as shelter staff are the ones who understand the issues and have programs to provide support.
Youth often want to remain hidden due to prejudice, Pitcher said.
“There’s a lot of judgment from people that aren’t homeless,” she said. “I think that it’s a big issue and we should all be compassionate and understanding.”
She said she believes this campaign will be good for the whole campus and will hopefully invoke empathy in students.
“Queen’s is a very affluent school and we’re all very privileged to go here,” Pitcher said. “It’s important to get an understanding of what the homeless youth go through. “