Skip to content

City must speak loudly for its homeless youth

The fallout of the May long weekend continues with reports that youth were once again partying too hard and making one fine mess in wilderness areas in and around Rocky Mountain campgrounds.

The fallout of the May long weekend continues with reports that youth were once again partying too hard and making one fine mess in wilderness areas in and around Rocky Mountain campgrounds.

This is an old story, one that police and provincial parks officials have been combating for years.

And while local parents should always be vigilant in ensuring their loved ones know the dangers of irresponsible behaviour while out camping there is a more widespread and deeper concern right here in the City.

The Express recently published a special report on the incredible situation facing homeless youth in the City, and the equally baffling way governments have fumbled the ball in putting together a solution to address it.

There is at any given time up to 70 youth in Red Deer who have nowhere to sleep at night. They either wander the streets until they find a friend's couch to rest on, or a bush to crawl behind, or a deserted alley where they can lay under a heat vent. Sometimes they will be able to get an hour or two of sleep. Sometimes they will get rudely awakened and beaten up. If the youth is a young woman, she faces an additional danger of being sexually assaulted.

If any of these youth are lucky a compassionate police officer will spot them first, take them away and find some sort of safe accommodation.

The problem in Red Deer is that there are only eight emergency beds for youth now in place. These beds are funded by the provincial government.

But local social service officials say the province has not responded to repeated pleas for more funding to help high risk youth.

Stacey Carmichael, a community leadership initiative coordinator with the Red Deer and District Community Foundation, says while almost everyone in government power acknowledges there is a desperate need for housing and support for chronically homeless youth, no one wants to take responsibility.

There is no doubt the City of Red Deer's initiative to combat homelessness has attracted a lot of attention and deserved praise. Both the federal and provincial governments have followed the City's lead with support and funding which has translated into affordable housing for many Red Deerians who urgently needed it.

The question now is whether Red Deer's enviable record in calling for action for the homeless in general should be re-focused in demanding action for chronically homeless youth.

Of course funding and jurisdictional issues will no doubt be a serious issue for the City but for many years Mayor Morris Flewwelling spoke loud and hard on the City's plan to end homelessness within a decade and many in Ottawa and Edmonton listened.

There is no reason not to believe they won't listen again. But this time it will be targeted for our young.