Youth Homelessness

Report written by Nanditha Iyer

On December 1, 2016 the LYAC met at the Boys and Girls club to discuss youth homelessness in Ontario. Dana Booth, youth councillor for ward 1, lead the conversation based off of prior research she had done with a King’s University College student, Madeline Bassant. The dialogue consisted of the causes and consequences of youth homelessness, the advantages and shortcomings of homeless shelters, and how to assist youth living in poor conditions.

Who Should Read This?

  • Youth
  • Homeless shelter employees
  • Teachers and parents
  • Organizations assisting with homelessness
  • People interested in learning about homelessness and homeless shelters

The Harsh Facts of Youth Homelessness

Dana’s interest in this topic was fueled by her experience of seeing many youths on the streets, inspiring her to determine why this is the case. She began the discussion by providing a variety of statistics regarding the harsh reality of homelessness across Canada:

  • 9% of youth go through episodic homelessness
  • In 2013, 1/30 children were homeless, 1.3 million youth were homeless, 18% received social assistance, 17% were employed part time and 25% were sex-trade workers
  • 70% of homeless youth are run-aways from home because of sexual, physical or emotional abuse
  • Homeless youth are more likely to be assaulted or robbed
  • Homeless youth are more prone to illness and diseases, especially STIs
  • Homeless youth are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety and depression
  • Homeless females are three times more likely to experience teen pregnancies

Dana then addressed some of the factors instigating youth homelessness:

  • Unemployment
  • Drug abuse
  • Physical and mental disabilities or illnesses
  • Domestic abuse
  • The industrialization and urbanization crisis –  notably, there is a lack of affordable housing in Toronto with the average rent being over 1,000 dollars per month
  • Family crises

Hearing these facts caught everyone’s attention – the bitter truth is that homelessness amongst youth in Canada is more common than we think.

Personal Stories

Dana began to give specific examples of people she had encountered through her research in order to paint a vivid picture of the suffering caused by homelessness on young people:

  • A young woman who worked with Dana’s sister was 19, pregnant and worked 3 jobs, yet she still lived on the streets.
  • A 17-year-old girl became pregnant, and was not allowed back into her house. Her family placed a restraining order on her which took a toll on her mental health.
  • A 19-year-old boy would purposefully get into fights just to go to jail so he would have food and a place to sleep.

Dana explained that many homeless youths lie to their friends; they are not able to trust people. Additionally, the fact that a young person is homeless would have many negative effects on every other aspect of their life. Without a stable home, youths would not be able to manage their time, they would not be able to develop and pursue goals, or enjoy life as much as their peers.

Homeless Shelters in London

After addressing the causes and consequences of youth homelessness, Dana went on to talk about two homeless shelters in London, Ontario:

  • The Rotholme Women’s and Family Shelter is a volunteer-lead shelter grounded in the Christian faith. It is an emergency shelter with a 30-day limit that accommodates all families and single women over the age of 16. They care for mental health needs, residents are able to work with support workers and all types of people are accepted.
  • The Unity Project Shelter was founded in 2001 by a youth activist group and homeless individuals. It provides 24-hour service to staff and their support services for men and women over the age of 18. The shelter’s goal is to give its’ residents an opportunity to develop skills, pursue personal goals and get back on their feet.

After describing these two shelters, Dana went on to critically think about the validity of their descriptions.  According to her research, there is a lot of subsidised housing in London, however, in some cases these homes are not well-kept. She wondered if perhaps this was the same situation with the shelters mentioned above. Dana wondered why the websites did not have any images of the actual shelters, and if the quality of services are what they claim to be.

It is also rather important to note that both of these shelters have age restrictions. The Rotholme shelter only houses those who are 16 and over and the Unity Project Shelter accommodates those 18 and over. This is common for many homeless shelters across Ontario. Dana explained that most shelters do not allow individuals under the age of 18 to be residents. Questions about where homeless youth reside arise. Are they in safe places? What do they do if they are separated from their families? How can they get back on their feet again?

Kayley mentioned that there used to be a youth shelter in London called Crossroads which was subsidised/transitional housing for youth specifically. However, there no longer is a shelter in London that prioritizes youth. Again, the point that Dana is emphasized here is that there is not enough being done to help homeless youth. More importance needs to be given to the issue by establishing additional services and shelters.

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Since the cost of living in Ontario is increasing rapidly, some youth are not able to pay for basic necessities (ex. schooling, housing, food) and hence youth homelessness is on the rise. However, there are many ways to avoid youth homelessness and potentially decrease it. Dana listed some methods she thought could help with the issue:

  • Revisiting social safety net in Canada and modernizing it to keep up with society
  • Implementing affordable housing programs
  • Volunteering time to shelters and the homeless community
  • Helping families ensure that youth do not end up homeless in the first place
  • Instituting nutrition programs and initiatives for youths to be involved in extra-curricular activities
  • Mental illness action plans and special needs strategies
  • Bridging communications between existing support agencies
  • Increasing awareness surrounding the commonality of youth homelessness

Big Questions

  • What can each of us do to help eliminate youth homelessness?
  • How can we spread awareness about the pressing issue?
  • What means can be used to communicate resources that are available to homeless youth?
  • How can teachers or other adults identify when a young person may not have stable housing?