Langley teens raise awareness about youth homelessness

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SAFE Langley members (from left to right) Erin Moloney, Meaghan Laycock, Jordyn Laird and Chantelle Killey. Twitter photo courtesy of Jenny Yun.

Reported by Veronnica MacKillop

High-school students in Langley have launched a battle to help homeless teenagers.

“We decided to form a youth homelessness task force,” said Jordyn Laird, a student at Brookswood Secondary and a member of the task force. The goal is to eventually have a homeless shelter for teenagers in Langley.

In 2016, 162 high school students in Langley were homeless or in unstable housing. There is currently one homeless shelter in Langley, the Gateway of Hope run by the Salvation Army, and those seeking shelter must be 19 or older.

In November 2015, at a Langley school district meeting, high-school students decided that it was time for a change.

SAFE (Shelters Are For Everyone), is the name of the organization started by the students in the task force.

“We put posters up around Langley that said #SAFELangley in hopes that people would type it into any social media, and be able to find anything that we had posted,” said Meaghan Laycock, a SAFE member and Brookswood student.

A community-wide initiative

Brookswood is not the only school involved.

“Students from all high-schools in Langley are coming together to work on the issue,” Laycock said.

SAFE has held events such as an outdoor concert and barbecues, to raise awareness and a little bit of money for a future youth shelter.

“We’re hoping that eventually we will have a connection with a politician who would want to help us with the financial part,” Laycock said.

SAFE members were shocked at the amount of community support at their events. “We were expecting maybe 30 people for our conversation cafe, and over 100 showed up,” said Laird.

Powerful youth voices

Loren Roberts, from Encompass support services and a part of the youth homeless initiative, said young people speaking out is very powerful.

“It’s hard to ignore the youth voice,” he said.

Gordon Stewart, acting superintendent of the Langley school district, said that the sustained funding from the shelter has to come from the province, which may not see it as a priority.

“[Youth homelessness] is not something that’s in your face as much as other issues,” Stewart said. “A lot of the youth during the day will access the school system for food and get help from friends or staff. It’s not as visible as someone who is older and doesn’t have these resources.”

Teenagers helping each other is a step in the right direction, according to Stewart. “There’s nothing better than youth advocating for youth.”

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