In a recent TEDx event, Covenant House Vancouver’s Chief Program Officer, Chelsea Minhas, took the stage with a powerful blend of emotion and information, to share a transformative journey that started with her small-town roots. Chelsea’s poignant narrative, fueled by personal experiences and dedication, captivated the audience, and shed light on the often-overlooked issue of youth homelessness.
Her advocacy journey finds its roots in her parents’ experiences as homeless youth. The realization of her parents’ resilience sparked a flame within her, that led to a commitment to make a difference. From a small-town dreamer to a passionate advocate, her story resonates with the challenges and triumphs of those she now champions.
Chelsea’s 16-year history with Covenant House Vancouver is a testament to her unwavering dedication. Progressing from a casual youth worker to the Chief Program Officer, Chelsea’s career trajectory reflects the impact that one person can have on an organization and the lives it touches.
The harsh reality of youth homelessness, often hidden from plain sight, underscores the urgency of intervention. Chelsea emphasizes that “Twenty percent of Canada’s homeless population are youth and many homeless adults state that they were first homeless prior to the age of 25. These are the facts, yet we don’t see this represented in our public policy. It’s under counted, underrepresented. It’s invisible. These youth are written off as runaways, misfits, criminals, drug addicts, and “…if they would just go home, get a job, or go back to school.’” But it’s not that simple. Chelsea shared some of the complexities and risk factors that often lead to youth homelessness. “Your family kicked you out due to your sexual orientation. Your home was the first place that you found drugs, or where your first trafficker was the adult that was supposed to protect you.”
She advocates for innovative solutions that highlight the mismatch between adult systems and the developmental needs of youth. Youth don’t feel safe accessing systems that are made for adults, and nor should they have to, but with broken systems and youth homeless unaccounted for in our public policies, there is no other option for them. The urgency surrounding issues like overdose prevention necessitates open dialogue and creative solutions. Chelsea challenges the stigma associated with youth drug use, and emphasizes the stark reality that “dead kids do not recover.”
Chelsea passionately believes that real social change starts with youth. She shared inspiring success stories of individuals who, with the right support, have overcome adversity to lead fulfilling lives. Chelsea emphasized that investing in youth is an investment in the community that creates a ripple effect that spans generations.
Chelsea reflected about former Covenant House Vancouver youth, Jade: “A young woman with a brilliant mind and access to a scholarship program. She’s now attending medical school. Ten years from now, your family doctor, that will save your family member’s life, will have once been a homeless youth. That is the power of seeing them; of telling them that they are worthy and providing the support that they deserve. That changes communities. Homelessness is the least interesting thing about them.” Chelsea believes that seeing, accepting, and making youth feel worthy and loved are key to creating impactful change. There’s no such thing as “This child is someone else’s problem”; it’s a collective responsibility that we all share.
Chelsea Minhas left the TEDx Surrey audience with a powerful call to action. She urged everyone to be part of the movement to reduce youth homelessness by volunteering, questioning narratives, advocating for change, and offering support to those in need. Circling back to her message that homelessness is the least interesting thing about these young individuals, Chelsea emphasizes that these youth are worthy of love and support and have the potential to change their trajectory, given the opportunity.
Chelsea Minhas’s TEDx Surrey talk serves as a reminder that, collectively, we can make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth. Covenant House Vancouver continues to lead the way in transforming lives, thanks to leaders like Chelsea, who are dedicated to creating a brighter future for the next generation.