Youth Homelessness in Canada is on the rise

Aug 2021 | Homelessness Other

While our country is facing a homelessness crisis, there is a rise in youth homelessness in Canada that cannot be ignored. According to Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey, 20% of Canada’s homeless population is between the ages of 13 to 24. At any given time there are between 35,000 to 40,000 youth experiencing homelessness in Canada. 

Toronto-based organization, Youth Without Shelter, identifies youth as the fastest rising segment of people facing homelessness in Canada. But what is behind the rise of homelessness in the youth population and what can we do to help youth avoid homelessness?

The Factors That Contribute to Youth Homelessness

According to a report called Leaving Home: Youth Homelessness in York Region, the causes of youth homelessness are varied.  While 92% of youth facing homelessness cited conflict with their parents or caregivers as a contributing reason for leaving home, nearly 60% identified emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as a contributing factor to their eventual homelessness.

Other factors, such as marginalization; being a part of racialized communities, low-income families, immigrants, involvement with the child welfare system, people living with mental health or identifying as LGBTQ2S+—can greatly increase an individual’s risk of being homeless.

Economic reasons, such as lack of employment opportunities, lack of affordable housing also contribute to the increase in youth living without a roof over their heads. It can be extremely difficult to gain employment that offers a liveable wage, particularly for youth with low levels of education. For kids facing homelessness, the majority of accessible work options are part-time, seasonal, low-wage, and/or without benefits. Without a living wage, affordable housing options, particularly in cities with low vacancy rates like Nanaimo, become even more limited.

The 2020 Nanaimo Point-in-Time Homeless Count included a new question addressing the connection between foster care or group homes and youth homelessness. In Nanaimo, it was found that nearly half of youth respondents were homeless within five years or less of leaving care.

2016 Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey reported that 57.8% of homeless youth have histories of child welfare; 73.3% of youth who became homeless before the age of 16 reported child protection involvement; and homeless youth were 193 times more likely to have been involved with the child welfare system than the general public.

Learn more about the paths into youth homelessness.

Impacts of Homelessness on Youth

Ontario-based organization, Youth Haven, finds that a youth who spends two or more years on the street has a far lower chance of ever getting off the streets. Once homeless, youth are vulnerable to a multitude of dangers and are at an increased risk of experiencing more trauma. Youth who are homeless may experience a variety of everyday pressures and have limited coping mechanisms and resources to manage these stresses.

Experiencing homelessness is known to have negative impacts on both mental and physical health. Living without access to routine, regular meals, and proper hygiene puts youth at risk. Not to mention the stigmas associated with homelessness. An interview with a 14-year old homeless girl in Victoria describes how it was the emotional support that she really missed. For kids experiencing everyday stresses, this could exacerbate their mental health issues and lead to not attending school, and withdrawing and further isolating themselves.

Additionally, if they find themselves in desperate situations, unaccompanied youth may engage in criminal behaviour as a means for survival. Youth looking for shelter might break into a building to find a place to sleep in, and if seeking cash for food, may resort to selling drugs or prostituting themselves.  All of these impacts can have a compounding effect, which can amplify their vulnerability.

Homeless Youth Facing Violent Victimization

As a result of being out on the streets, homeless youth face an increased risk of being victims of violence. A study conducted by a York University professor found that homeless youth are among the most victimized population groups in Canada.

The study describes how youth who have little or no access to housing, jobs, and public areas are frequently forced into conditions that require them to become more aggressive and hostile in order to survive. The report shows that the criminal activity of street children is not purely voluntary. It is frequently the outcome of difficult circumstances over which they have little control, which can then further isolate them from the rest of society.

Very few homeless youths disclose their victimization stories with those in positions of power and the amount of street youth who become victims of crime is not widely documented. Women who are young and homeless are particularly susceptible to violent victimization. A Global News article describes how Canada’s youth is at the heart of the rising sex trade and the main victims are often young, homeless women struggling with mental health issues. Stories like these need to be told to inspire change and used as a catalyst for action.

Learn more about how people facing homelessness are more vulnerable to acts of violence.

Providing Assistance to Homeless Youth 

If we avoid finding solutions for youth homelessness in Canada, their circumstances can get worse and we’ll find ourselves trying to solve a bigger and more difficult problem that may be even more costly and onerous to repair. If we do not provide assistance to these youth, they will very certainly become part of the chronic homeless adult population.

The key to providing assistance to homeless youth is multifold. Support needs to be provided early and adapted to their particular situation.  Certain factors, such as providing shelter and food are the minimum, but in order to provide support that can create a lasting impact and change within the youth, certain programs need to be in place to fully support their needs.

 Programs need to address the complex and multifaceted contributors and pathways that lead to youth homelessness. Examples of these programs could be assisting youth in improving their mental health and providing family therapy to help stabilize problematic family settings. Other programs, such as support to help youth find employment and develop life skills can also benefit them. Programs need to be holistic in order to truly create an impact and support them in becoming contributing members of their families and their communities.

Local Organizations: 

Nanaimo Youth Services Association

NYSA is a non-profit that provides support to young people between the ages of 15 and 24 who are living independently of parents and/or caregivers. Their services range from providing housing, mental, physical and emotional support, life skills training and employment assistance. Learn more about their local impact

Tillicum Lelum – Youth Services

Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre strives to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal people living in an urban environment by promoting justice, fairness and equality through a holistic approach to programming and services. Their services for youth include leadership training, counselling, providing a safe house, drop-in centre and summer camp programs. 


Read more about the Impact of Homelessness In Canada

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