Learning about youth homelessness: Scope, causes, and impacts

More than 6,000 young people (16-24 years old) experience homelessness across Canada every night.[1] At a local level, there is approximately 2,000 youth experiencing homelessness in Toronto on any given night.[2]

For many youth, their experience with homelessness started when they were young; 40.1% of youth were younger than 16 when they first experienced homelessness.[3]

The pathways to youth homelessness

The pathways into youth homelessness are complex and a result of structural, institutional, familial, and individual factors that all intersect. Many youth who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness have faced challenges with:

Unstable homes

For the youth experiencing homelessness, leaving home is not an impulsive decision.

  • 1% of homeless youth report experiencing childhood trauma and abuse.[4]
  • 5% of youth identified abusive relationships within the household and mental health and addictions problems among their parents as having influenced their decision to leave home.[5]

Child welfare system

A high percentage of homeless young people have experienced childhood abuse and involvement with child protection services, often beginning at a young age.

  • 8% of homeless youth have experience with the child welfare system.[6]
  • On average, youth became involved with child protection services at the age of 8.5, and for 31.5%, involvement began before the age of 6.[7]

Health and well-being

Youth who experienced adversity prior to becoming homeless, such as physical and sexual abuse, neglect and, child protection involvement, were more likely to experience poorer mental health, suicide attempts, lower quality of life, and negative psychological resilience.[8]

  • 4% of homeless youth reported high symptoms of mental distress.[9]
  • 42% reported at least one suicide attempt.[10]
  • Across domains, 2SLGBTQ+ youth reported a much higher degree of mental health concerns.[11]

 

Education and employment

Housing instability often results in low school participation and unemployment, which contributes to the following long-term impacts:

  • 2% of homeless youth drop-out of high school versus the national rate of 9%.[12]
  • 7% of homeless youth were unemployed versus the unemployment rate of 13.3%, in 2015, for youth in the general Canadian public.[13]
  • 5% of homeless youth were not in employment, education or training (NEET) pre-COVID-19.[14]

Overrepresentation within youth homelessness

Youth experiencing homelessness are disproportionately represented by Black, Indigenous, racialized, 2SLGBTQ+, and newcomer and immigrant youth, who face systemic barriers that impact all aspects of their lives.

  • 5% identify as 2SLGBTQ+[15]
  • 6% identify as Indigenous[16]
  • 2% identify as members of racialized communities[17]

Due to the lack of both culturally relevant and 2SLGBTQ+ specialized services, racialized 2SLGBTQ+ homeless youth are even more reluctant to access existing general resources, agencies, and service providers due to a fear of social stigmatization and even violence, especially for those youth who self-identify as transgender.[18]

Systemic barriers faced by Black youth

Racism permeates multiple levels of society and exists within different structures and institutions that interact and reinforce one another. Racism and discrimination are drivers of inequities in many systems including child welfare, education, employment, health care, justice, and housing.

Child welfare

Due to systemic racism, Black youth are overrepresented in children’s aid societies across Ontario, which contributes to Black youth being at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

  • In 2015, 41.8% of children in the care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto in 2015 were Black. This is five times their representation in the overall Toronto population.[19]

Education and employment

Many Black Canadians face racial discrimination throughout employment and education.

  • In 2016-17, Black students accounted for 11% of the Toronto District School Board student population but were disproportionately represented in suspensions/expulsions as Black students accounted for 36.2% of suspensions/expulsions.[20]
  • In 2016, 20% of Black young adult men (23-27) were not in education, employment or training (NEET), compared with 12% of other young men.[21]

Justice system

Black youth face racial profiling and discrimination throughout the criminal justice system. Interaction with the criminal justice system contributes to youth homelessness and homelessness can also act as a pathway back into the criminal justice system.

A national 2017 report by the Office of the Correctional Investigator examined the experience of youth incarcerated in federal penitentiaries and found:[22]

  • In 2015-2016, Black young adults (18-21) were overrepresented in federal penitentiaries representing 12% of the young adult inmate population despite Black Canadians (all ages) representing only 3.5% of the total Canadian population in 2016.[23][24]
  • 6% of Black young adult inmates (18-21) were admitted to segregation despite only comprising 4% of the total Black inmate population.[25]

Health and well-being

Anti-Black racism has increasingly been recognized as an important driver of inequitable health outcomes for Black Canadians. The lack of provision and accessibility of services, specifically culturally appropriate services, negatively impacts Black youth.

  • A 2016 report highlighted that Black youth are significantly under-represented in mental health and treatment-oriented services but over-represented in containment-focused facilities.[26][27]

Impacts of COVID-19

For young people experiencing homelessness, who have already survived so much in their young lives, the isolation, fear, and inequities they’ve experienced during the pandemic are contributing additional trauma.

  • 85% of service providers reported an increase in youth experiencing anxiety.[28]
  • 75% service providers reported an increase in youth experiencing depression.[29]
  • 36% of 2SLGBTQ+ youth in the GTA experiencing homelessness have attempted suicide since the COVID-19 pandemic began and 82% engaged in self-harm.[30]

[1] Gaetz, S., Dej, E., Richter, T., & Redman, M. (2016). The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press

[2] Gaetz, S., & Ogrady, B. (2002). Making Money: exploring the economy of young homeless workers. Work, Employment and Society, 16(3), 433-456. doi:10.1177/095001702762217425

[3] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[4] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[5] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[6] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[7] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[8] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[9] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[10] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[11] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[12] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[13] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[14] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[15] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[16] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[17] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S. and Schwan, K. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[18] Daniel, L., & Cukier, W. (2015). The 360 project: Addressing racism in Toronto. Toronto, ON: Urban Alliance on Race Relations & Diversity Institute at Ryerson University. The 360 Project: Addressing Racism in Toronto – Youth Research and Evaluation eXchange : Youth Research and Evaluation eXchange (youthrex.com)

[19] Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAS). (2015). Addressing Disproportionality, Disparity and Discrimination in Child Welfare: Data on Services Provided to Black African Caribbean Canadian Families and Children. Retrieved from http://www.torontocas.ca/sites/torontocas/files/baccc-final-website-posting.pdf

[20] Toronto District School Board. (2018). Caring and Safe Schools Report 2017-2018. Retrieved from:Caring and Safe Schools Report 2017-18, TDSB, Final_April 2019.pdf

[21] Turcotte, Martin. Results from the 2016 Census: Education and labour market integration of Black youth in Canada. Insights on Canadian Society. February 25, 2020. Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 75-006-X. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75- 006-x/2020001/article/00002-eng.htm

[22] Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI). (2017a). Missed Opportunities: The Experience of Young Adults Incarcerated in Federal Penitentiaries – Final Report. Retrieved from http://www.oci-bec.gc.ca/cnt/rpt/oth-aut/oth-aut20170831-eng.as

[23] Statistics Canada. (2019). Diversity of the Black Population in Canada: An Overview. Retrieved from: Diversity of the Black population in Canada: An overview (statcan.gc.ca)

[24] Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI). (2017a). Missed Opportunities: The Experience of Young Adults Incarcerated in Federal Penitentiaries – Final Report. Retrieved from http://www.oci-bec.gc.ca/cnt/rpt/oth-aut/oth-aut20170831-eng.as

[25] Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI). (2017a). Missed Opportunities: The Experience of Young Adults Incarcerated in Federal Penitentiaries – Final Report. Retrieved from http://www.oci-bec.gc.ca/cnt/rpt/oth-aut/oth-aut20170831-eng.as

[26] Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO). (2017). Facts & Figures. Retrieved from https://www.cmho.org/education-resources/facts-figures

[27] Gharabaghi, K., Trocmé, N. and Newman, D. (2016). Because Young People Matter: Report of the Residential Services Review Panel.

[28] Thulien, N.S., Noble, A., Akdikmen, A., Ali, D., Coplan, I., Daley, M., French, D., Hwang, S.W., Kidd, S., & Roglich, J. (2020). Pandemic Proof: Synthesizing Real-World Knowledge of Promising Mental Health and Substance Use Practices Utilized During the COVID19 Pandemic with Young People Who Are Experiencing or Have Experienced Homelessness. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[29] Thulien, N.S., Noble, A., Akdikmen, A., Ali, D., Coplan, I., Daley, M., French, D., Hwang, S.W., Kidd, S., & Roglich, J. (2020). Pandemic Proof: Synthesizing Real-World Knowledge of Promising Mental Health and Substance Use Practices Utilized During the COVID19 Pandemic with Young People Who Are Experiencing or Have Experienced Homelessness. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[30] Abramovich, A., Pang, N., Moss, A., Logie, C. H., Chaiton, M., Kidd, S. A., & Hamilton, H. A. (2021). Investigating the impacts of COVID-19 among LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness. Plos One, 16(9). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0257693

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