March 24, 2018 10:14 am

Youth share stories of homelessness and mental health struggles at one day summit

Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington United ways CEO says mental health and homelessness have strong links


Representatives from 40 organizations, including school boards, police and front-line health care providers, met at Fort Henry’s Discovery Centre in Kingston for Youth Mental Health Services Planning Day, a one day event to identify gaps and barriers in youth mental health and addiction services.

READ MORE: Ontario student groups want province to boost services for youth with mental health issues

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In her opening remarks for the event, Bhavana Varma, CEO for the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington United Way, said the use of youth shelters has gone down, but more needs to be done.

She says homelessness and mental health issues are strongly linked.

“A lot of youth are homeless as a result of addiction and mental health and so we can do better as a community.”

Now 21, speaker Alexis Babcock shared her experience with the youth mental health system when she was a teenager. She was dealing with depression which led to drug use as a coping mechanism. By the age of 15, she was kicked out of her home and fending for herself. She was couchsurfing just to have a place to sleep.

“The last thing that was on my mind was school, the first thing that was on my mind was whose house am I going to stay at tonight and you know which friend am I going to ask if I can come over,” Babcock said.

READ MORE: ‘Not a place for any 12-year-old to be’: New survey shows youth with anxiety on the rise

Babcock says the moment that turned her life around was when her vice-principal got her in contact with Youth Diversion services.

“I ended up meeting a very nice counsellor, who ended up connecting me to a bunch of different agencies in the Kingston area, but also [gave] me that structure and support that I was lacking in my life at that time,” Babcock said.

Not all teens are that fortunate to have someone looking out for them and can help them get connected.

Another speaker at the one day event was Arryn Hill. She volunteers her time with One Roof, a one-stop shop service hub with a relaxed atmosphere, which Hill says is a step forward compared to some of her past experiences.

“[Services] would be in kind of a clinical setting, like offices and buildings and waiting rooms, and that was kind of intimidating and confusing,” she said.

Babcock says the transition from youth mental health services to adult services is an area that also needs work. She says the youth system and adult system don’t communicate well and youth service can vary widely as to what age they will serve. Some agencies make youth transition to adult services at 18-years-old, while others offer services to youth into their early 20’s.

“Because the transition wasn’t as smooth as I thought it was going to be, it made it like an anxiety, like a stress in my life, to have to go to these appointments,” Babcock said.

Varma says the youth input is critical to organizations as they look for solutions and ways to implement them.

“We’re hoping we’ll come up with some innovative solutions, and then as a team, we’ll go away and look at how we’ll implement those, which ones are ready to go right away and which ones will take a little more development,” she said.

Babcock said the necessary help has turned her life around – she’s now an educational assistant and is continuing her education.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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