Fifty per cent of Lanark County’s homeless young people come from Smiths Falls, town councillors were told at a Dec. 11 meeting.
Terrilee Kelford, chair of the board of Cornerstone Landing Youth Services, said the organization has made a great deal of progress in the past two years addressing a problem that for many years was out of sight and out of mind. Although many people in the county’s rural communities have told her they have never seen a homeless person, Kelford assured councillors the problem is very real.
“You can’t deny the data,” said Kelford. “You can’t deny the stats. We have these people in our community.”
The fledgling organization now has two full-time staff and has assisted 110 homeless youth in finding accommodations since Jan. 1, 2016. So far in 2017 Cornerstone Landing has helped 24 young people who have experienced homelessness – sleeping in cars, on garage floors, or outside. The most common form of homelessness in the area, however, is “couch surfing.”
Although young people who stay at friend’s house for a week may have a roof over their heads, Kelford explained, they do not have security. “It is very unpredictable for the kids, and they don’t feel safe and comfortable when they’re doing it,” she said.
The organization addresses the problem not by building shelters, which are too costly and don’t solve the problem, but by offering assistance and financial support, said Kelford.
Cornerstone Landing has identified a number of needs in the area, Kelford said. One such need in Lanark County is for an emergency housing solution that does not include “putting kids in unsupervised hotel rooms.”
Other needs include:
- long-term sustainable funding for housing case workers,
- increased support for mental health,
- dramatic increases in the supply of safe, affordable housing,
- centralized intake and date collection procedures,
- a system for assessing client risks and needs, and,
- youth need to be identified as a special priority for services.
On a positive note, Kelford said Cornerstone Landing has been meeting monthly with other front-line housing support workers to streamline services, create an integrated program for youth with complex needs, and to develop a protocol for responding to youth homelessness in the county.
To raise both awareness and funds, Cornerstone Landing will host a fundraising walk Saturday, Feb. 24 called “The Coldest Night of the Year,” an event happening on the same date in communities across the country.
“We want to put Smiths Falls on the national stage in terms of saying we’re going to do something about this,” said Kelford.
Cornerstone Landing has also been working with the Algonquin College Perth campus to help build affordable housing for youth.
“We don’t necessarily see the homeless in our community, but we know they are there,” said Mayor Shawn Pankow.