Youth between the ages of 13-25 make up 20% of the homeless population in Canada . In Nanaimo, we’re seeing increasing numbers of vulnerable youth experiencing homelessness. Of the people facing homelessness surveyed in the 2020 Nanaimo Point-In-Time Count, 10.7% of respondents were under the age of 25. An estimated 60 to 65 youth are living on the street. There are many reasons that lead young people into homelessness.
Family and relationship breakdowns are one of the main reasons young people become homeless. Many youths leave home after years of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, strained relationships, addiction issues in the family and parental neglect. Young people often become homeless because it’s safer to leave home than to stay.
Conflict with parents or caregivers was a major cause of homelessness for 74% of youth, and was a contributing factor for 92% of youth, according to the 2014 Leaving Home report. 
Aging out of the child welfare system is another cause of youth homelessness. When they reach the age of 19, youth are no longer supported. Without adequate planning, housing and income support, some youth living in residential or institutional placements become homeless when they’re discharged.
The 2020 Nanaimo Point-in-Time Count confirmed that foster care is a precipitating factor leading youth into homelessness. In Nanaimo, of those who indicated they had been in foster care, 39% were homeless within five years or less of leaving.
LIVING IN POVERTY
Many young people who become homeless come from families living in poverty. The families may indeed be supportive and caring, but may simply not have the means to take care of the young person and they may be forced to leave the home.
Some youth become homeless with their families, after the family suffers financial crises resulting from lack of affordable housing, limited employment opportunities or insufficient wages. These youth may be separated from their family by shelter, transitional housing or child welfare policies.
MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION CHALLENGES
Youth may be pushed into homelessness because of their own undiagnosed or untreated mental health or addictions challenges or because of their parents’ mental health and addictions challenges. This is concerning because the sufferings of being homeless only exacerbate these challenges.
LGBTQ2S+ youth experience higher levels of homelessness than their peers. It’s estimated that between 25-40% of homeless youth in Canada identify as LGBTQ2S+ compared to 10% of non-homeless youth.
Many sexual and gender diverse youth grow up in homes with family members that are not accepting, supportive or affirming. Often, coming out to family leads to homelessness. Some youth may run away from home because of abuse or discrimination from their family members. Others may be thrown out of their family home.
When young people experience discrimination of any kind, it impacts their options and access to employment, educational opportunities, and their ability to access the services they need. This contributes to an increased risk of falling into homelessness, particularly when combined with other challenges the young person may be experiencing in the home.
Challenges for youth
Youth homelessness is complex and is usually the result of a combination of factors.
Experiencing homelessness at any age is extremely difficult. Homeless youth are especially vulnerable to physical and mental health issues, overdoses, abuse and exploitation without a stable support system.