It’s no shock. Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as 2016’s Word of the Year. These days, it seems that emotions and perceptions may sway public opinion more than facts. But, in many ways, it isn’t new. Assumptions and misunderstandings have always been something to contend with when it comes to issues like youth homelessness.

We can challenge these myths by getting to the facts. Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey, the largest research of its kind in Canada, is an incredible resource for just that. How can you respond when faced with a “post-truth” idea about youth homelessness? Read on for help.

“Youth leave home. That’s why they’re homeless.”

There are lots of case-by-case “push” factors to consider (e.g. family crisis, abuse, mental health crisis). But Without a Home highlights systemic failures that lead to or at least don’t help with housing instability. They may be hard to see but they work together to form a “pipeline into homelessness”. Part of the problem is illustrated in the reality that 57.8% of homeless youth have been involved in child protection services. When there are so many cracks in the systems that young people have to navigate, it’s difficult to say that homelessness is a personal issue.

“Any youth can experience homelessness … and do.”

The survey confirmed observations we’ve made since Eva’s opened in 1994: youth who experience homelessness are incredibly diverse. In that sense, any young person can experience homelessness. But some face higher risks and have less access to relevant supports. For example, LGBTQ2S and Indigenous youth were overrepresented in the survey, and we know they face high rates of discrimination. So, in another sense, homelessness tends to “target” some youth more than others.

“Lots of homeless youth hanging around means higher risk of violence for me.”

This one misses the reality that homeless youth are six times more likely to experience violence victimization than people who are housed. Homelessness does absolutely create high risk of crime and violence … for the vulnerable youth themselves who don’t have stable, safe housing.

“Homelessness will always be with us.”

It’s easy to feel like funds fall into a deep pit and that policies, practices, and programs float somewhere in dreamland. But there are effective things we can do to reduce youth homelessness—the national survey ends with recommendations that arise right from the data. The thing is that we have to be committed and do it differently. We have to get to the roots and stop focusing only on the leaves. That’s what we aim to do at Eva’s with a short-term help, long-term support and skill-building approach, and we’ve seen amazing impacts.

Please share this article and help us challenge post-truth assumptions!

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