Hidden Homeless: People who are temporarily crashing with friends, relatives or others because they have no where else to go.
I have been doing outreach several times each week for nearly three years. So, I’m familiar with most of the youth downtown. If I don’t know them by name, I at least recognize their faces.
Last week at art group, I saw a new face. His name was Patrick, and he said he was 17 years old. Why haven’t I seen him before? I wondered.
He told me that he’s been homeless for about 6 months now. He grew up in Kanata, in the suburbs, but he can’t go home…he wouldn’t say why. He tried the shelters, but they scared him. So he was “couch hopping”, crashing anywhere he could.
Patrick is considered one of Ottawa’s “hidden homeless”. He is not who most people think of when they think of the homeless: i.e., a man sleeping on a park bench. Instead, he looks like your average teenager who blends in with the crowd.
After just a few years of doing outreach, I have seen a change on the streets of Ottawa: there are less youth sleeping in plain sight on the streets. While this may seem like a positive thing, it’s not. Youth tell me that over the last several years, the city has made it more difficult for them to sleep outside. So, they are forced to “couch hop” (sleep on friends floors or couches). Not only can this be dangerous (many youth are victimized when couch hopping), it also makes it harder for support services and outreach workers to find them.
How do we help these youth if we can’t find them?
When I asked Patrick how he learned about the art group, he told me that he heard about it from other youth. He made the effort to seek out support. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of Ottawa’s hidden homeless youth are out there, hoping that someone will help them.