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Young and Homeless: Facts About Homeless Youth in Canada

Fact: Young people don’t choose to be homeless. Leaving home is the last resort. It is when living conditions at home become absolutely intolerable and there is no other option but to leave. Very often this includes physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse.

Homeless youth face unique challenges and are especially vulnerable without parental guidance and a stable support system. However, with the right approach and knowledge, there can be a brighter future for these young people. Let’s look at some facts.

Who Is Considered a Homeless Youth?

A homeless youth is anyone between the ages of 13-24. Not every young person that falls into the category of being homeless is visible on the street. There are people who have severed ties with caregivers or don’t have social supports. They might either be waiting for shelters or staying temporarily with friends, a practice often referred to as “couch surfing.”

They may also be in low-rent temporary housing or hostels, or even in hotels in some cases. Homeless youth often find themselves in a variety of these living situations, but the common trait is they don’t have a permanent place to call their own. 

Young man is sitting on the stairs and being depressed

How Many Youth are Homeless in Canada?

Statistics show that 20 percent of Canada’s total homeless population is comprised of youth. That translates to up to 40,000 homeless youth in any given year. Youth is also one of the fastest-growing segments of homelessness in the country. 

About 37 percent of homeless youth are female, and they are particularly at risk of being assaulted on the streets. Homeless women, in general, are 10 times more likely to die early than women who are not homeless. 

Young homeless teenage girl with red hair

Challenges Among Youth Sub-Populations

The number of homeless youth that identify as LGBTQ2S is disproportionately high. In fact, 40 percent or more of the entire youth homeless population is made up of this group. Adding to this problem, these young people face a lot of transphobic and homophobic violence on the streets as well as in shelters.

Both homeless indigenous and black youth also make up a disproportionately high number among the total population. 

Addiction and Health Problems

Homeless youth are very likely to experience many health challenges, such as depression, severe anxiety, suicidal contemplation, and poor nutrition. They are also at a greater risk for substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and involvement with the justice system.

While there are many reasons why one turns to drugs or alcohol, substance use is a common coping mechanism among homeless youth. There’s clearly a strong connection between substance abuse and mental health disorders.

homeless girl sitting on a chair and feeling scared

Challenges To Finding Employment

While many homeless youth seek employment to help their situation, they face a unique challenge. Because many of them drop out of school early, they set themselves up for bigger challenges when seeking a job due to a lack of education, qualifications, and prior work experience. 

They may also lack access to a phone, showers and clean clothing which can also minimize their chances of finding steady work

Young teenage boy is sitting on the stairs and feeling depressed

Building a Brighter Future

Preventing youth homelessness is the key. We need to understand and address the unique needs of homeless youth and move them out of homelessness before it becomes chronic.

We need an adequate supply of affordable housing and support systems in place for young people who cannot live at home.

Fortunately, there are many organizations in Toronto that work to combat youth homelessness. However, solving homelessness is not a problem solely for charities. It is our responsibility as a nation to work together to find and support solutions for ending homelessness. We are all in this together.

Young homeless person is holding a house shaped cardboard sign representing the need for affordable housing