At just 11 years of age Olivia Stajduhar spoke out about homelessness as she stood before the podium in Victoria’s council chambers.
Stajduhar was there to add a youth voice to a symposium on homelessness and end of life care held in the fall of 2017.
She talked about the openness and sustainability efforts at Arbutus Global middle school, where she’s entering Grade 8 this week. She also spoke about hearing tragic stories of people who live on the streets, told to her by her mom, Kelli, an associate professor in UVic’s school of nursing who also works at the Institute on Aging and Lifelong Health.
In particular, she was drawn to stories about Victoria’s tent city in 2016. Stajduhar wrote the script, her dad taped the speech, put it in on YouTube, and it’s now encroaching 300 views.
“When tent city started [in Victoria], a lot of people didn’t like it. [But] it made people feel safe and happy, isn’t that what matters?” said Stajduhar, who is now 12. “We have to be thankful for what we have… homeless people don’t have the freedom because they don’t have money. Without money, you can’t buy things we take for granted: food, shelter and normal living supplies.”
Two weeks ago Stajduhar visited Camp Namegans tent city in Regina Park.
“It’s not as bad as it’s made out to be,” Stajduhar said. “People seemed very happy and in a community, they all seem to know each other.”
While Stajduhar may have a heightened awareness around the issues that cause homelessness, she isn’t about to engage in debate with youth who don’t.
Stajduhar has found a lot of youth have already established opinions around tent cities and the people who live in them.
“Most kids, they say, ‘Oh, it’s a bad thing, it’s not good,’ but they don’t know where it comes from,” she said. “It’s up to them to learn otherwise.”
So what solutions does a 12-year-old suggest for homelessness and the associated issues that go with it?
“It’s a hard position,” Stajduhar says with a smile.