An innovative new non-profit Surrey housing project is offering hope – and a potential model – for kids aging out of care.
But Douglas Dunn, Executive Director of SOS Children’s Villages, says while the five new suites will provide an opportunity for some youth in crisis, it’s just a fraction of what’s needed.
LISTEN: Douglas Dunn explains how the new housing will help vulnerable youth
The SOS Children’s Villages’ new housing in Surrey is designed as a pathway to self-sufficiency for kids aging out of foster care.
The organization will provide five fully furnished suites to youth aged 16-18 who are aging out of the system.
When youth enter the one-year program, rent is held at $400 per month, close to the welfare rate, but it edges up slowly to $600 by the end.
Dunn says that’s not because the organization needs to cover costs – but is intended to help transition young people to a place where they’re ready to handle real market rates.
Over that same year, they’re provided workshops, counselling, therapy, and job skill preparation.
And he says, like a parent, the organization remains in place to offer support for kids after they’ve moved on.
Dunn says providing that stability, skill set, and hope for youth transitioning out of government care is essential to keep them from falling through the cracks.
He points to one of his group’s recent successes as an example of how a helping hand can mean all of the difference.
“With 30 hours of youth worker time, only 30 hours, she went from having a knife in her pocket, and she had been contemplating suicide when she met our youth worker, to now she’s at university studying nursing,” he says.
It’s a model Dunn says has been proven with research.
He points to one U.S. study which looked at graduates of a similar two-year U.S. program four years afterwards.
“They were employed, they weren’t involved in crime, they weren’t having as many children out of wedlock, those sort of measures were right off the chart,” he says.
“But they were going to continue to do so into the future. And the savings to society, because they were not in jail, they were not on welfare, was far in excess of the cost of the two-year program.”
But Dunn says there’s only so much a group like his, which is funded by a string of thrift shops, can do – and he admits five suites is a drop in the bucket when there are more than 700 kids aging out of government care every year.
He says it’s frustrating that government doesn’t seem willing to take the same approach.
“We’ll invest $50 billion in a bridge with a 50-year payback expectation. And yet where’s the investment in youth who, with that much money, we could change an entire generation and restructure our society?”