Students go on hunger strike

STUDENTS WILL go hungry and sleep in boxes, rain or shine, to raise awareness of homeless and vulnerable youths in Terrace this Friday.

JESSICA MCCALLUM-MILLER is helping to raise awareness about young people who are homeless here by holding a hunger strike this weekend.

STUDENTS WILL go hungry and sleep in boxes, rain or shine, to raise awareness of homeless and vulnerable youths in Terrace this Friday.

“There is a lot of kids who are in unsafe housing,” said Sandy Watson, a Terrace counsellor and member of the 24-Hour Youth Centre Committee.

“They aren’t necessarily on the streets, but they’re couch surfing or in circumstances where they are not safe and we don’t have a safe place for kids to go.”

The event’s 17-year-old organizer, Jessica McCallum-Miller, is concerned about this too.

Together, she, Watson and the committee are hosting a 24-hour hunger strike starting noon July 8th to spread the word and gain support in trying to solve the problem.

It is an issue that is close to  McCallum-Miller’s heart.

She knows youths who have been, or are, homeless.

In a peer-group survey she conducted, she found 10 youths who were either homeless or living in unsafe housing.

“I see people coming into this world overwhelmed,” she said.

“They don’ t know where to go. They were misguided.”

She said that by opening a youth shelter and offering free counselling services, she hopes it will help homeless youths begin to heal, and give them a chance to access education.

“It would let them know that they are not blamed for the things they never knew.

“[Some] don’t have a chance to even go to my school and I think that’s devastating,” she said.

Kathy Bell, a teacher at Parkside Secondary School where  McCallum-Miller attends, said that homelessness is an issue the students there see daily.

“There are many couch surfing [at Parkside Secondary],” Bell said. “So I think the students in our school are more aware of it.”

The term Watson uses to describe youth homelessness in Terrace is unsafe housing.

She said this carries a broad range of meanings, including youths who trade sex for a place to sleep, those who deal drugs or live with drug dealers to make money or gain a support system, abusive or non-nurturing parents, those without support dealing with anxiety, depression, loss or grief, or who are couch surfing and transient with no stable home.

Watson, Bell, McCallum-Miller and the committee want a 24-hour youth shelter to come of their efforts to raise awareness.

Watson said a place for kids to go not only for shelter but to access support services at all hours is necessary in solving the problem.

A shelter would remove the barriers to access currently faced by youths.

And when it comes to helping homeless youths now, teachers are overwhelmed.

“We feel powerless a lot of the time,” Bell said.

So from noon this Friday until noon Saturday, students and community members alike are invited to gather at the gazebo on millennium trail, between Staples and the overpass.

The event will consist of an all-night food-free camp-out, but anyone wishing to stop by for information or offer support are welcome.

Watson said she is also looking for community volunteers who want to do activities with the youths like storytelling, playing music, crafting, or other forms of entertainment.

“This is completely a grassroots project, we have no money and can’t pay for anything,” said Watson. “But any donation of time or materials would be greatly appreciated.”

Donations of water or food at the end of the strike are welcome.

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