Often when young people age out of foster care, they celebrate their 18th birthday with the loss of family and connection.
“They find themselves having to get adulting,” says Denis Beaulieu, “and they might not be prepared for it. When youth age out of the system — or are homeless — what do they do?”
Having spent decades working as an advocate for children and youth (specifically in mental health and crisis intervention), Beaulieau was well aware of the gaps. Now retired, he began to think of a way to offer young adults safe accommodation — and give them support to gain necessary life skills — while they move toward independence.
When he purchased a rental property a few years ago, he saw an opportunity to make it happen.
Now, Beaulieu rents reasonably priced, furnished rooms in one of two fully-equipped homes to youth using a partnership agreement instead of a standard rental agreement. Under the partnership, Beaulieu works together with the young people over the course of a year to help them learn skills that will eventually enable them to live on their own — a model he calls Progressive Goal-Oriented Living.
The youth currently living there range from 16-21; most are referred to Beaulieu through various social service agencies. Beaulieu offers guidance in the rights, responsibilities and expectations of being a good tenant; and young people learn the tools to be successful as they grow into adulthood--everything from budgeting for groceries to doing their own laundry. They also chip in with chores, and are responsible for attending school, employment or working towards a viable goal.
Beaulieu has received overwhelming support from the community in furnishing and equipping the living areas; and church groups and SSM Helping Hands have been instrumental in getting the space ready for tenants.
The shared spaces in his units are homey and well-appointed with interesting books on the shelves and artwork on the walls. A far cry from a frat-house, they are substance-free; and feel comfortable and safe. He’s currently in the process of setting up an activity space as well; complete with air hockey, gym equipment and a meeting space.
Growing up in Timmins, Beaulieu’s home life was fairly average; he didn’t experience food or housing security issues. But he did have struggles around identity and sexual orientation.
“I lived a pretty oppressed life, and experienced a lot of internal turmoil and stress,” he remembers. “As a result, I recognized that if I could put myself on a path and career that might help me become a catalyst for change for young people — that would be great.”
In ‘89, Beaulieu had an opportunity to come to the Sault and fell in love with the city; “I found there was a need for a bilingual youth worker at a local agency, I applied, and the rest is history.”
Beaulieu plans on eventually offering accommodation for seven youth; spread across two homes.
“There’s definitely a lot of rewards; but one of the big challenges is shifting my thinking away from being a mentor to being an ally,” he says. “When I first started, I had a lot more rules and responsibilities so I could maintain control. But as I've been going, I've been removing them. The more I remove them, the more successful the youth are. When you step back and offer to partner and be an ally with them, the more successful they are.”
Beaulieu hopes other landlords will take note of this model — and open themselves up to the possibility.
“I want to encourage other landlords to become youth-engaged landlords; and dispel some of the myths that youth aren’t good tenants. I think there's a misconception that if you rent to youth, you’re going to regret it,” he says. “I think if adults partner with youth in a genuine way, and offer guidance and set out responsibilities — that it can be successful. You’re letting them do their own thing, and offering them guidance along the way as they maneuver life and gain experience as young adults. It’s very rewarding.”