The Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs is introducing a new youth social support program to Kelowna.
“We are so excited to announce Upstream Kelowna; this has been years in the making,” said Sarah Mackinnon, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Okanagan’s youth services director.
The Upstream Kelowna project is the first of its kind in Canada, which is aimed at preventing, rather than responding, to youth homelessness.
Using a screening tool or survey, the project will identify at-risk youth in Grade 8 at schools and connect them to social support.
“The three goals for the program are to reduce school disengagement, reduce youth homelessness, and reduce the number of young people who are living with mental health distress,” said Mackinnon.
Jordan Siemens, a current youth worker at Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs, spoke about his troubled past at Kelowna’s Downtown Youth Centre, the very same shelter he took refuge at as a 14-year-old youth experiencing homelessness.
“I wasn’t connected to any social services until I first walked into the shelter. There’s no reason why you have to be homeless to access those services for the first time,” said Siemens.
“I definitely think if there were people in the schools that were finding these kids, who are struggling right now, and connect them with these programs early on, it would definitely help them out.”
Siemens agrees that the project may be the best way to address youth homelessness as it works ‘upstream’ to prevent issues from developing.
“At the youth shelter, we have a lot of people showing up who are very young and in the same age group that we will be surveying. A lot of these kids could be connected with addiction services, mental health services, or programs to help with their family life,” said Siemens.
The program is already underway. The Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs say the first surveys will be going out to Grade 8 students in the spring.