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When there are no beds, homeless youth often resort to sleeping in garages, in abandoned trailers and buildings or even worse, in forests and fields and other hidden places across the region. They are vulnerable to illness, emotional trauma, criminal threats and violence.
A few winters ago, I spent one extraordinary night wandering the streets of York Region, experiencing first-hand what homeless youth from our community go through every night. Organizers wanted us to better understand what homeless youth in York Region face every night.
It can take less than 10 seconds for a youth to become homeless. In York Region, homeless youth, more often than not, do not fit the stereotypical profile. Unlike urban centres, these young people are often homeless not just due to poverty. They stem from middle-class families and end up on the street for a variety of reasons.
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Each year, 360⁰kids -- an organization that provides a range of services to York Region's homeless youth -- encourages local community members to experience homelessness, just for one night a year. Last March, our group made it through some bone-chilling temperatures. I will do it again this year. For more than 300 youth in a region that's home to large detached homes and flourishing businesses, they've lost count of how many nights they've been homeless. It's an issue that doesn't get enough attention.
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The holiday season is truly a magical time of year. It is a time for giving, reflection, and appreciation. Many individuals and organizations come together and show thanks by donating what they can to those in need. Unfortunately, the holidays will not be magical for everyone, especially not for a high proportion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and 2-Spirit (LGBTQ2S) youth who have experienced familial, societal, and institutional rejection. The holidays can be an especially lonely time for many, particularly for those without a safe place to call home.
How is it that we become outraged by one tweet from a celebrity and not by any number of grave issues and epidemics facing society as a whole? After all, there is certainly no shortage of worthwhile causes to support. One issue that's certainly got my attention is youth homelessness in Canada.
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Until I started working at The Mustard Seed, an organization working with individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty, I asked and was asked "how are you?" a lot. The reply I got was almost always the same: "I'm good, thanks, and you?" But one girl changed my mind, and taught me to listen. As important as I've realized this practice is in everyday relationships, it is even more important when working with vulnerable populations.