Homelessness a growing problem for Lanark County youth

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Homelessness a growing problem for Lanark County youth

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story suggested Cody Townend and Amy Flegg had just recently found housing. In fact, they've had an apartment since March 2016.

Ever since Cody Townend was kicked out of his family home in Almonte, Ont., he's slept on more couches than he can count and at one point was living in a bachelor apartment with four other young people in Carleton Place.

Townend, 21, and his girlfriend Amy Flegg, 19, have had a place to live since March 2016, but Townend said he knows many others in his rural community are desperate to find a safe place to live.

"Probably the most popular version of homelessness in Lanark County is what's called couch surfing," Townend said. "If you don't know where you're going the next day, the next week or the next month, you're homeless."

Social agencies in the communities of Perth, Smiths Falls and Carleton Place say a lack of affordable housing for young people is a significant problem.

Cornerstone Landing Youth Services, a registered charity, said it has seen a growth in youth homelessness in Lanark County over the last six years.

The case manager at Cornerstone Landing, Ian Richardson, has been helping Townend and Flegg find work, get through high school and do it all with a roof over their heads. Richardson said he hears from homeless young people from across the county.

"Our goal is to support young people 16 to 24 with housing issues and to prevent homelessness," Richardson said. "We have over 80 referrals in a year here. Lanark County is completely unaware in my eyes as to the severity of what we're dealing with."

Without a safe place to stay, managing a job or school is almost impossible, said Flegg, who struggled to finish high school but was finally able to graduate this June.

"If you have a place to go home at night, sleep and not be like, hey someone might steal my clothes, someone might hurt me," said Flegg.

Terrilee Kelford, chair of Cornerstone's board, said there are no shelters in the rural county so they have seen kids staying in trailers with no running water, sleeping in parks, under bridges, in cars and in tents.

The Lanark County United Way, Perth's YAK youth services and Cornerstone are now teaming up to find solutions.

"In terms of housing, what we're looking to try to do is create blueprints for specific housing that can actually be built for youth, that we can use to solve the crisis," said Fraser Scantlebury, regional director United Way for Lanark County.

Kelford said they are partnering with Algonquin College in Perth to develop a construction model for safe, affordable housing. They're also working on preventing homelessness and related problems through community outreach.

Townend and Flegg said their new apartment is small and needs some fixing up, but it's a place they can finally call their own.

"It's been a big change in both of our lives," Townend said.

Correction : An earlier version of this story suggested Cody Townend and Amy Flegg had just recently found housing. In fact, they've had an apartment since March 2016.(Jul 17, 2017 3:33 PM)