Oxford County opens facility to help teens at risk of homelessness

Oxford County is focusing on unhoused teenagers in its newest step to help reduce homelessness.

In collaboration with Oxford County Community Health Centre (OCCHC) – a non-profit serving local communities – the county is launching a youth transitional housing unit that will help four 16- to 17-year-olds experiencing homelessness shift into stable housing.

Although Oxford County Warden Marcus Ryan said “it’s horrible” people that young are struggling with housing, he added: "It's amazing that Oxford County staff working with community partners have been able to make this happen."

The transitional housing offers on-site professional support that will assist youth living there temporarily search for permanent housing. They can get help with money management, securing transportation and education or training for future work.

“We're hoping, with this transitional housing, we can kind of get to the youth early and provide them with the support they need to be successful afterward,” said Caitlin Clause, a youth outreach and support coordinator with OCCHC.

About 42 per cent of youth served by the agency don’t have stable housing.

Teens can stay at the home for up to a year. It's a place they can get help for issues that may be at the root of homelessness, such as mental health, addiction and legal troubles.

Ryan said the Lighthouse – a transitional housing residence for adults in Tillsonburg launched a year ago – has frequently housed people for less than a year after they received support. Ryan hopes the trend continues for teens who use Oxford's newest transitional home.

“What we all want is people to say, ‘Thank you very much for the support. I don't need those; I'm moving on now. I've got a job or I'm getting an education, I'm getting my own housing,’” Ryan said. “That's what I want to see, is people successfully moving in and out on the other end because they've got what they need at that situation.”

Oxford County’s announcement is its latest step to ease homelessness in the largely rural municipality.

In late March, the county, working with Operation Sharing and Old St Paul’s Anglican Church, doubled the number of beds to 25 at its overnight shelter operating from the Woodstock church because of growing need.

In 2023, an average of 10 people experienced homelessness for the first time each month, while 47 individuals have found permanent housing since April in Oxford County.

Homelessness is a growing concern across Southwestern Ontario.

In January, London’s city staff said the city’s homeless population could be more than 2,000 people, about 350 of whom were living with no shelter at all and 103 in homeless encampments in the city as of November, including some with multiple tents.

In April 2023, in an apparent acknowledgement of a province-wide homelessness issue, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government announced an additional $202 million investment for homelessness programs, increasing yearly funding to nearly $700 million.

bwilliams@postmedia.com

Brian Williams, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press