Online Exclusive: Homeless youth gear up for winter

The Boys and Girls Club of Calgary stepped up last week to put on the Gear Up for Winter event, an effort to help homeless youth.

The Beltline Youth Centre was teeming with volunteers and homeless youth enjoying friendly chatter and free food Thur., Nov. 5. The attendees were given backpacks which they could fill with winter jackets, hoodies, towels and personal hygiene items. There was also access to flu and pneumonia shots, haircuts and information on support services. University of Calgary nursing students volunteered their time to give flu shots.

Gear Up for Winter was a joint project between the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, the City of Calgary, AADAC, Inner City Resource Center, Red Cross and Youth Criminal Defense Office. In an effort to raise awareness of youth homelessness and equip youth with essential winter items to help them face the freezing temperatures.

“People do die and lose body parts out there,” said Jason Gladu, one of the youth in attendance.

As mercury falls well below zero, volunteers and staff who work with homeless youth are feeling the pressure. At the youth centre, everyone was preparing to face what could be a devastating winter for Calgary’s homeless population, with shelters full to the breaking point and no sign of relief before summer.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” said Wesley Bookhout, one of the youth in attendance. Bookhout has been living on the streets of Calgary since he was 13, when his parents left for Ontario without him. He said until recently he never had any difficulty finding room in shelters.

Some of the youth attending the event were also participants in Face It magazine, which is running out of the Beltline Youth Center building. Face It is a program for youth between 16 and 30-years-old who are unemployed and not attending school, which works to develop their writing and journalism skills. Bookhout and Gladu are both involved.

Gladu said he was forced out of his prior residence by a significant rent increase. He said that even the working homeless, himself included, cannot afford a place to live in Calgary. He praised the event organizers, noting they had a lot of respect for homeless youth.

Brenda Finch [title] of the Boys and Girls club of Calgary said that homelessness has become a major problem in Calgary due to rent increases and vacancy shortages, both in permanent housing and shelter space, and the many obstacles individuals face when trying to pull themselves out of poverty.

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