Our research has identified three themes that highlight the needs of homeless youth:
- Stability: youth tell us that it is almost impossible to focus on other challenges when you have no home and no money. They need affordable housing and sustainable employment before they can tackle other issues.
- Opportunity: homeless and at-risk youth have tremendous potential. They just need the right opportunities and supports, e.g. employment and job training, and help in connecting with educational opportunities.
- Support: like all young people, homeless and at-risk youth need guidance when challenges come their way. Support is one of the most important factors in their survival and success.
Youth Homelessness in Canada: The Road to Solutions includes the following recommendations on what must be done to help street-involved youth transition out of street life:
- Existing funding: secure, long-term and flexible funding to enable successful programs for street-involved youth to continue to develop and grow;
- Access to services: ‘one-stop’ barrier-free access to services for street-involved youth within their home community;
- Education: more educational opportunities/grant programs for street-involved youth and increased programs that target early school leavers;
- Employment: increased job training and employment opportunities for street-involved youth, in particular graduates of agency programs;
- Housing: a national housing strategy that includes a continuum of housing specifically for street-involved youth, e.g., youth shelters, transitional housing, co-op housing, safe and affordable housing, as well as supportive housing for youth leaving child protection, foster care and group homes;
- Mentorship: increased mentorship support aimed at street-involved youth to build self-esteem and develop life skills;
- Government leadership: leadership and collaboration among federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments in developing a Canada-wide plan to address youth homelessness;
- Private sector engagement: development of a supportive framework to encourage the private sector to participate in creative solutions to youth homelessness e.g., skills training, employment opportunities, development of supportive work environment;
- Government policy: development of distinct policies around youth homelessness to address the unique needs of this population.
Also see the report’s suggested Community Checklist (page 30) - a tool to help communities assess local needs and priorities.
Of the close to 700 youth interviewed through Youthworks:
- The majority have not completed high school. Their lack of education is standing in the way of getting careers.
- About one-third live in shelters.
- More than two-thirds said they'd grown up in a family that found it hard to maintain consistent housing.
- Over 70% indicated that they did not have a positive role model in their life.
- It has been estimated that one-third of Canada's homeless population are youth. That means that close to 65,000 young people are without a place to call home at some time during the year.
- Abuse and neglect are two of the major reasons why young people leave home. Several studies show that nearly 70% of homeless youth have experienced some form of sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
Homeless youth are exposed to significantly more physical abuse, sickness, injury and mental health problems than their non-homeless peers. A Quebec study found that the death rate among homeless youth was 11 times higher than in the general population.
- Basic needs come first. Many youth showing up through outreach are in crisis. They may not immediately identify a lack of education, for example, because they are focused on urgent, practical needs. Once survival has been addressed, they are more willing to tackle other issues.
- Given the opportunity to learn an essential skill, many youth express relief that they no longer feel "stupid" or excluded.
- Many of the young people can only afford substandard accommodation that does not lend itself to making healthy lifestyle choices.
- Leaving the street involves more than finding a place to sleep. Many youth have adapted to the street lifestyle and find it difficult to integrate back into society.
- These youth have hopes and dreams for the future that are no different from others their age.
- The cost of keeping a youth in the shelter system is not easily defined, but cost estimates are between $30,000 - $40,000 per year
- Keeping just one youth in detention adds up to over $250 a day, or $100,000 a year
(ref: Gordon Laird, Shelter, Homelessness in a Growth Economy, Canada’s 21st Century Paradox, A Report for the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, 2007)
Helping Canada's homeless youth makes good social and economic sense. When we provide young people with the skills and supports to become self-sufficient, we are enabling them to become contributing members of society.
We couldn't do this critical work without the commitment of some very generous partners (see below). Thank you to all our wonderful Youthworks supporters!
But we need even more support to succeed.
If you are a corporation, foundation, or an individual looking to make a meaningful contribution to our society, consider investing in our most precious resource - the young people of Canada.
To learn more about becoming a funding partner, contact Maureen Gallagher by email or call (416) 489-6105.