“Isn’t Eva’s upset that all these efforts are going to help refugees when there are homeless youth to care about right here?”

This is a question that has come to Eva’s a lot lately. Here’s what we think.

Refugees Are Homeless Too

Refugees are people who are literally “seeking refuge”. They’re fleeing violence and terrible conditions in their home communities, and sometimes, they flee in big numbers.

Since the 1700s, Scottish, Polish, Italian, Jewish, Ukrainian, and other people came to Canada to escape war, persecution, and displacement. Black people fled enslavement and oppression in America to find a home in this country too. More recently, an estimated 11 million people in Syria have been killed or forced to leave their homes, some of whom have come to Canada for help. Refugees leave unexpectedly, don’t have a set place to go, and can carry significant traumas in addition to a loss of home, community, family, and friends.

Sound familiar? It’s not unlike what homeless youth can go through. 60% of homeless youth become homeless because they’re escaping violence, abuse, and/or neglect at home. They face many losses and traumas in the process and don’t have anywhere to go, let alone a means to find housing.

No matter where they were born, both refugees and homeless youth are in a precarious position in need of home and support. Their opportunities are slim, and as dangerous and scary as leaving home is, leaving feels like a safer choice than staying. Let’s not forget that the two groups absolutely intersect. Refugees themselves can be young people on their own and seeking refuge after a difficult journey.

What About Resources?

Like others who are homeless, refugees have difficulties finding good employment and affordable housing, even with government and charity help. For example, Syrian refugees are not ‘jumping the line’ on housing waiting lists. Many can get stuck in limbo, staying in hotels and hostels. Like young people, refugees also experience hidden homelessness and precarious housing.

The reality is that refugees are at risk of slipping into that big pool of people in Canada who have low access to employment and housing opportunities, tools for civic participation, and broader social acceptance and a sense of belonging. Some people have already been in that pool for a long time, and some are young people who come to Eva’s for help.

We Need to Prioritize Compassion

“Isn’t Eva’s upset about refugees?” is a loaded question because it’s so competitive. Should we invest in people experiencing homelessness in Canada, or should we invest in people experiencing homelessness abroad and seeking refuge here?

The question assumes that there is no way this country could afford to help both groups. It’s a zero-sum analysis, an “either/or” argument.

So we ask, underneath it all, is there a deeper subtext that refugees, like other people who have slipped into the “low access” pool, have little to offer? Is there an assumption that they are not or could not become contributing taxpayers and voters, loyal employees, and beloved community members, neighbours, friends, and family? Are some people too easily forgotten?

We “question the question” and instead ask why we can’t prioritize compassion instead of competition. What if we were to start doing the difficult work of truth and reconciliation, acknowledging the destruction inherent to our colonial aspirations and invest in undoing the root causes of homelessness for everyone at risk?

Canada is one of the richest countries in the world. There are resources and they need to be allocated differently than they have been. With elections coming up in Toronto, Ontario, and Canada, there are opportunities for everyone to “question the question” and hold representatives accountable. Stay tuned for key issues we think everybody who cares about ending youth homelessness can ask about as they anticipate going to the polls in coming months.