Community Spotlight: Facility Opens in Barrie for Homeless Youth Fleeing Abuse

A new study by Ryerson University researchers in Toronto found that homeless teens who have fled violence in their homes may be motivated to have sex at an earlier age because they are seeking approval from their partners. They may also participate in risky sexual behaviours putting their health and lives at risk.

The findings were startling. The researchers found that nearly forty-two per cent of the homeless teens studied reported they were sexually abused as children. Sixty-two per cent of females said they were abused compared to just under twenty-seven per cent of males.

Fortunately, homeless youth in Barrie who are fleeing family violence will finally have a safe place to call home.

The Government of Canada, through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and Youth Haven Barrie recently celebrated the grand opening of a 20-bed facility for homeless youth in Barrie. CMHC provided $551,106 through the Shelter Enhancement Program (SEP). SEP assists in repairing, rehabilitating and improving existing shelters for women and their children, youth or men who are victims of family violence. It also provides financial assistance for acquisition or construction of new shelters and second-stage housing where needed.

Youth Haven Barrie is Simcoe County’s only emergency shelter for homeless and abused teens between the ages of 16 – 21.

“This funding has enabled us to open our home and our hearts to many more of the homeless youth in our area,” said Cherry Laxton, Executive Director of Youth Haven Barrie. “The new house allows us to say, ‘Welcome home’ to those who don’t know the stability and love that a home can bring, and in opening our doors to them we offer the comfort and peace of mind that every child should know.”
For the past 22 years, Youth Haven has provided emergency shelter, food, clothing, life skills, plans of action and after care services to at-risk youth in need of guidance and support. Eighty per cent of the clients are victims of some form of abuse with the remaining 20 per cent suffering from some form of mental health issue or drug addiction. All of the youth utilizing the services are treated with dignity and respect and are given the opportunity to heal in a loving and supportive environment.

For the Ryerson study, researchers gathered information from 179 homeless youth, aged 16 to 21, from five homeless shelters in Toronto and the surrounding area. Those who were sexually abused had their first sexual encounter, on average, at age 14. That is two to three years younger than the general Canadian population, said the Ryerson University researchers.

“For homeless teens, especially young women, being sexually abused as children may make these young people think sex is a way to make someone like them,” said Trevor Hart, an associate professor of psychology and director of Ryerson’s HIV Prevention Lab. “As a result they are more likely to start having sex at an earlier age.”

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