If the huge turnout is any indication, the collective voice of a group of Langley teens has brought the plight of youth homelessness into the spotlight.
More than 120 people attended a forum on youth homelessness — organized and led by students — that took place at the Langley School Board office on Wednesday afternoon.
Dozens of teens showed up as well as members of Langley City and Township councils, school district administrators and trustees, Langley’s outreach workers, a youth shelter worker from Surrey, concerned Langley citizens and teachers and parents.
Students from R.E. Mountain, Aldergrove Secondary, Brookswood and Vanguard formed the task force into youth homelessness. In their research they discovered there are up to 200 teens in Langley who haven’t had a home to go to at various times in their lives.
What the group found upsetting and has moved them to action is that Langley doesn’t have an emergency shelter for youth. The Gateway of Hope can only take people who are 19 years and older.
If teenagers find themselves in crisis with nowhere to go, the nearest shelters are in Surrey and and Abbotsford.
But if they identify Langley as their home and this is where their school is, it becomes an another obstacle to overcome, said the group.
Students led the conversations at each table, with topics ranging from whose responsibility is youth homelessness to what are the future impacts of youth who are homeless.
“Before you break into groups I want you to think of this — what is home?” asked Brookswood Secondary Grade 11 student Elliot Cluney of the large crowd gathered around several tables.
“Home is somewhere you can be yourself and somewhere you should be safe.”
In 2015, they were an estimated 160 Langley teens who didn’t have a safe home or have found themselves unable to go home for various reasons.
The student organizers told the crowd that their next step is a meeting with the Township on April 11. A meeting with Langley City staff and council has not yet been scheduled.
They also plan to line Langley Bypass with 162 students in May, to show just how many Langley youth have found themselves looking for safe places to lay their head.