“Everyone who meets her wants to help,” said one Kamloops city councillor of Katherine McParland, the founder of A Way Home Kamloops. McParland spoke to a gathering in Nelson last week about youth who become homeless after aging out of the foster care system. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

“Everyone who meets her wants to help,” said one Kamloops city councillor of Katherine McParland, the founder of A Way Home Kamloops. McParland spoke to a gathering in Nelson last week about youth who become homeless after aging out of the foster care system. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Foster care is ‘superhighway to homelessness,’ B.C. youth advocate says

Katherine McParland grew up in foster care and lived on the streets

When Katherine McParland was five, she fled to a women’s shelter with her mother who was escaping an abusive relationship. At 13 she was placed in a foster home and then moved through a succession of them through her teenage years. She says those foster homes taught her a lot.

“They taught me how to couch surf and sleep in strange places. I learned how to tote all my belongings in garbage bags. I learned how to be homeless at a quite young age through foster care.”

McParland told her story to about 100 people at a conference on youth homelessness last week in Nelson. She now runs A Way Home, a program in Kamloops that employs a unique set of community partnerships to help homeless youth in new ways, and which is being emulated in other parts of the country.

She said foster care is “the superhighway to homelessness.” If foster homes are not meeting kids’ needs, they tend to run away but have nowhere to go.

“They are making decisions with their feet. They are running away from these placements and are told they are choosing homelessness. I beg to differ. I say they are choosing to find a sense of belonging and we, as communities, need to create this for them.”

She said runaway kids find that sense of belonging with their peers on the street.

“I lived in foster homes where the fridge was locked, so my foster sister and I were accessing the food bank every day.”

She also sometimes lived in group homes.

“There was a group of us kids that no one wanted. They could not find foster homes to take us, and one evening we wrote on the window SPCA FOR KIDS. Us kids identified with the abandoned animals. It was a shoutout for help.”

At 19, McParland aged out of foster care. All government help ended.

“I ended up joining my foster siblings on the street because that was my sense of belonging. That was my family. Shortly after, I met a very abusive man that kicked in the door of my first residence.

“The landlord did not fix the door so the man could get in whenever he wanted. I would try and jump out the window. Eventually I got evicted and all of my items were on the front porch on the first day of snow in November with nowhere to go.

“On the street a group of us youth took a cardboard sign and wrote on it: ‘Youth are aging out of foster care into homelessness, you need to help.’ We taped it to the Ministry of Children and Families’ door. This was our first experience of social justice work.”

Rick Kutzner, a youth outreach worker in Nelson, says much of his caseload involves young people aging out of care. But he says attitudes toward them tend to be more empathic than toward older homeless people “because it is like they don’t have a choice. There will be curiosity about what happened to them, and where are their parents.”

But there is still a stigma, he says, when it comes to youth finding housing.

“I get it,” Kutzner says. “If I am a homeowner, I am going to want the young professional tenant,” or, as McParland puts it, “that shiny university student.”

“I know what I was like at that age,” Kutzner says. “I would not want to rent to me.”

McParland said youth homelessness does not look like adult homelessness. It’s less visible.

“It’s not people on the streets pushing shopping carts. You may be walking beside a homeless young person and have no idea that last evening they had no place to stay.”

She said there are many forms of youth homelessness, ranging from permanent homelessness with kids sleeping in parkades and along the river banks, to episodic homelessness where kids move in and out of a home, to “survival rape” in which predators take young girls in but at a cost.

Youth do not do well in adult homeless shelters, McParland said, because they can be victimized there. She recalls seeing “a number of young homeless people hanging out with older men, and there was a young person who had just aged out of care who connected with an older person who had been on the streets for years and they were shooting up heroin.

“So I gathered a group of people in an abandoned building. We had no chairs, sitting on the floor, seven people, I would harass them into coming, and we [eventually] would have 40 people at a meeting.”

She eventually invited some government managers and politicians.

“I knew that day when people came in with suits that something incredible was about to happen.”

Since then, A Way Home Kamloops has done some innovative things, including creating a youth homelessness action plan that led to the Kamloops Housing Wrap Force. The centralized housing and support intake system now includes 16 organizations and government departments that use the same intake and consent forms so youth don’t have to share their information multiple times.

They have created a continuum of youth housing options including supportive housing, some of it specific to young mothers and Indigenous youth. Through partnerships with businesses and landlords, the group also provides rental subsidies.

As a registered non-profit, the organization takes out leases on behalf of tenants. Thompson Rivers University provides five bursaries a year to the housing program’s participants.

Kamloops city councillor Tina Lange, who successfully nominated McParland for the 2017 YMCA-YWCA Peace Medal, wrote that McParland “has a paid position to coordinate wrap-around services for all troubled youth, but what she has done goes miles beyond what she is paid to do. With lived experience she has turned the concept of homeless youth on its head… She has inspired landlords, business owners, Thompson Rivers University (and governments) to open their eyes to the financial and social cost of ignoring homeless youth. Everyone who meets her wants to help.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A photo illustration shows a proposed fountain in Mill Lake. (City of Abbotsford photo)
City to consider fountain for Mill Lake using donated funds

Matter comes before Abbotsford council on Monday afternoon

Linnea Labbee outside the Chilliwack Law Courts on April 1, 2021 on day 16 of her trial in BC Supreme Court where she is charged in connection with the fatal hit-and-run of a 78-year-old woman on Mary Street on Dec. 1, 2016. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crown seeking jail time for 72-year-old Chilliwack woman found guilty in fatal hit-and-run

Trial of Linnea Labbee who struck and killed 78-year-old woman in 2016 ended Monday

The Abbotsford IHOP, shown here on April 5, is now completely removed. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Abbotsford IHOP building taken down

Iconic restaurant had been on South Fraser Way for nearly 33 years

Abbotsford's Rick Hansen Secondary School is celebrating Vaisakhi virtually for 2021. (Submitted)
VIDEO: Abbotsford’s Rick Hansen Secondary School celebrates ‘Virtual Vaisakhi’

Production highlights local youth talent in anticipation of the start of annual festival on April 13

The Abbotsford Gogos are inviting local residents to watch a virtual concert in support of African grandmothers. The concert first airs on April 15. (Photo: Abbotsford Gogos Facebook page)
Abbotsford Gogos invite guests to virtual concert to support African grandmothers

Event first airs on April 15, featuring music, dance and storytelling

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynaecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

Mounties say they “corralled” four Ford Mustangs April 4 after an officer saw the muscle cars racing down 184 Street near 53 Avenue at about 10 p.m. (File Photo)
Mounties impound four Mustangs

Surrey RCMP say they seized four cars for street racing

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Tenants disappear in the night leaving Okanagan home trashed with junk, feces

Spallumcheen rental rooms filled with junk, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read