For International Day of Families, we want to recognize all the opportunities we have to strengthen families who are struggling, because stronger families leads to less youth homelessness.
Parenting is hard, even under what might be considered ideal circumstances such as stable housing, employment, and a good income. Many parents/guardians are trying to be good caregivers while facing difficult situations such as poverty, mental health concerns, addiction challenges, discrimination, and/or domestic violence.
Abuse is not always the reason.
Abuse is big reason why young people may leave home, but it’s not the only reason, and family conflict that leads to youth homelessness does not always involve abuse. Sometimes, it’s due to stresses related to things like making ends meet, caregiving, and settlement concerns after migration. In some cases, a family might struggle with “unsolved mysteries” about a young person’s health needs. Take Peter’s story, for example.
Sometimes, parents/guardians don’t have the tools to support their children and may need help relating to them. Take LGBTQ2S+ young people, who face widespread discrimination that can play itself out in homes and lead to family breakdown when a young person tries to come out or is outed. Groups like Toronto PFLAG have shown that, with compassionate support, families can come to accept and be there for each other.
Poverty is another big problem. 51% of people living in poverty are part of the Canadian workforce, many have to work multiple jobs in order to get by. That can severely limit their time and energy to provide parental support and guidance. Research shows that families dealing with poverty are more likely to be labelled as “neglectful” and have children’s aid involvement in their lives, and many youth end up aging of out child protective care and becoming homeless.
This is compounded for racialized and immigrant communities. Systemic racism is a huge barrier to housing, employment , and services. Racialized Canadians are more likely to experience interference from a children’s aid society and criminalization at higher rates than white Canadians. Racism also creates a huge strain on people’s mental health .
Intergenerational trauma also plays into it. For example, Indigenous communities carry the burden of Canada’s legacy of colonization, from forced re-location to reduced access to land and wealth and families getting torn apart by residential schools.
On top of all this, family is what we make of it.
There are times when it’s simply not safe for young people to live with their immediate family members. But these young people may still have positive relationships with other family members or family-like people in their lives. They may have non-biological people in their lives who mean the world to them. Building up these relationships can be so powerful.
We can’t take a simple view of family as “the problem”, and a great opportunity to end youth homelessness lies in helping families heal. At Eva’s, this is why we focus on family reconnection, preventing homelessness by helping young people and families:
- build better relationships
- understand the roots of their conflicts and how they can deal with it
- move forward after conflict
- get housing and other supports, reducing stress that leads to their conflicts
- move in with supportive family or go back home when it’s safe
Our Family Reconnect Program helps strengthen family relationships to reduce youth homelessness. It takes a prevention approach to help young people and their families stay together, where possible. Where families can’t stay together, we still help build healthy family relationships to reduce young people’s isolation and increase their sense of belonging.