A program run through Cochrane's Family Community Support Services (FCSS) helps provide a safe haven for youth when staying at home is not necessarily the best option.

While the goal of the 'Safe Coach' program is to help mend a difficult situation, it can provide a youth an encouraging, safe home environment instead of them turning to couch surfing, or worse, turning to the street.

The first step, says Cydney Korner, Youth and Family Support Worker for the Safe Coach Program, is to evaluate the family situation and see exactly what is needed to help rebuild or mend the broke down relationship. "Safe Coach is available to teens, young adults, as well as their parents and guardians when there might be difficulty living together at home. So we support the families by understanding what their conflict looks like, what are the relational needs, and what supports could we put in place to hopefully reunify them when possible, and if not at that time, we can put them in touch with longer-term housing supports."

While you may think Cochrane doesn't have a problem with youth homelessness, Korner says studies done a few years back by the Boys and Girls Club of Cochrane and Area showed there could be anywhere from 25 to 30 youth, at any given time, couch surfing. "We know the need is there and homelessness in this community and other communities can sometimes be hidden in terms of couch surfing and while you might not see rough sleeping as much as you would in other city centres, it doesn't mean the need is not there, it just looks different."

The goal for Safe Coach is to always unify families if possible, but there is certainly not a one size fits all solution. "It is case by case and we know every story is different. With our work, we try to work with a family to the point of reunification, if that is possible but if not, then we work with them on next steps and next goals, and support them through that process. It couple be a matter of a couple weeks, couple months, or even over a year, it is hard to say."

Safe Coach has really two components to the program; one is providing help and support for the youth and their family while the other is comprised of recruiting host families and supportive roommates. "We look for people that have interest and passion to support youth and their families within the community and this is one way someone can do that."

While host homes have generally helped house teens typically between the ages of 13 to 16, there seemed to be less supports available for those older, which is where supportive roommates, comes in to play. With the Western Rocky View Family and Community Resource Centre seeing an increase in young adults ages 17 to 24 being at risk of homelessness, a supportive roommate can make a huge difference, says Korner. "We would hope it would be an opportunity for role modeling and coaching to exist between the roommate and the young person and have an organic mentorship form. A stable living situation can have a huge impact on these individuals making a healthy transition."

The program doesn't have a certain 'benchmark' qualifying its success, the reality is many small wins can happen throughout the process, depending on circumstances and the scenario at hand. "There are many small successes along the way, but it is certainly a journey. I think it is really exciting for us to be developing the supportive roommate component and just recognizing that we have seen an increase in young adults looking for support in their transition to adulthood and we are in a unique position to be able to provide the support that they need. I think it is important we work with the community to recognize the needs, changes and how we can address that through the program within our scope."

The Safe Coach program is currently recruiting host families and supportive roommates to add to their roster. If you feel you or your family would be a good fit, contact Cydney at [email protected]

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