Michael Braithwaite is the Executive Director of 360°kids, a Canadian organization serving over 2,000 children, youth and families in the York area every year. It’s estimated that there are between 300 and 500 homeless youth in that area, aged 13 to 24. These many homeless youth are “children from every neighbourhood, class and culture”, and end up on the streets for a variety of reasons.
Once they’re on the streets, it’s hard to get out. In fact, about 80% of homeless youth self-medicate for all of their troubles with drugs and alcohol. This only makes the situation worse. So, Braithwaite provides them with shelter and resources to overcome their difficulties. Offering after-school programs, counselling, employment programs, and more, the organization is making a big impact on youth throughout the York Region of Canada. Here’s the story from Michael Braithwaite’s point of view:
A little while back I was talking to a Grade 8 class about youth homelessness when I asked them, what does a homeless youth look like? “Dirty…old clothes….sleeping on a sewer grate..” were some of the answers that they volunteered. I then told them to look at the person to their left, and then the person to their right and finally to turn around and look at the person behind them. “This is what a homeless youth looks like” I told them. They look like kids, because they are just kids. I asked them if they’d ever argued with their parents and every hand went up. “What would you do if that argument got worse and you decided to leave?” I asked them. No one had the answer.
Kids come into homelessness for many different reasons. Some have had the courage to come out to their parents, only to be rejected and asked to leave the home. Some have simply turned 19 and have aged out of care. Others are finding the courage to leave a life of being trafficked, only to find themselves without a place to call home. Whatever their path is into homelessness is, 360°kids is here to help them. Like our name suggests, we wrap our services around kids, providing them with all they need: housing, food, counseling, employment, education, health care and of course love.
In 2016 we opened a 14 bed emergency housing facility in Richmond Hill. It opened at 3 pm on March 15th. Without any marketing or outreach, all 14 beds were spoken for before the doors even opened. Now over 6 months later, we’ve never had a bed open for longer than 12 hours. The need is real. Until every homeless kid has a safe and loving place to call home, our work isn’t done. 360°kids will continue to advocate for our kids, to advocate for more dollars for housing programs, and we will continue to build awareness around homeless youth. At 360°kids, every kid deserves a home, every kid deserves to be loved, and every kid matters.
Written By: Guest Blogger Michael Braithwaite
If you liked this article, check out our Action For Teens@Risk Collection.