Young people make up approximately 20 per cent of the homeless population in Canada, according to Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey, a new report published by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. This means that over the course of a year, there are between 35,000 and 40,000 young people experiencing homelessness, and around 6,000 to 7,000 on any given night.
Youth homelessness refers to the situation and experience of young people between the ages of 13 and 24 who are living independently of parents and/or caregivers, but do not have the means or ability to acquire a stable, safe, or consistent residence, according to the report.
This report is significant because in Canada, it’s difficult to get an accurate sense of the state of homelessness as this data is not collected by Statistics Canada.
Who is homeless?
The Without a Home report used a sample size of 1,103 respondents from 47 different communities across 10 provinces and territories. It contains information on the demographics of homeless youth, how they became homeless, the experience of being homeless, the implications for policy and practice, as well as some recommendations for all three levels of government on what can be done to resolve the issue of youth homelessness.
The report showed a relatively high number of survey respondents are from minority groups.
How do youth become homeless?
The report identified key findings into understanding why youth become homeless. These include parental conflicts, childhood trauma and/or abuse, and personal factors (such as trouble with the law, or problems with drugs/alcohol).
In total, 63.1 per cent of respondents reported one or more forms of abuse when they were young.
Homelessness and education
The report identified a connection between homelessness and school drop-out rates. Sixty-five per cent of respondents had not completed high school. Low rates of high school completion can be due to various factors, such as undiagnosed learning disabilities, bullying, and/or trauma, and this can result in poor school performance before becoming homeless. However, according to the report, it is because of the experience of being homeless that leads to dropping out.
Experience of being homeless
The report found that homelessness correlates with the following problems for youth:
- Worsening health and greater risk of injury
- Nutritional vulnerability
- Increased likelihood of psychological problems and addictions
- Exposure to early sexual activity, exploitation, and safety issues
- Increased risk of criminal victimization
- Greater likelihood of involvement in the criminal justice system
- Earlier incidence of dropping out of school
- Entrenchment in the street youth lifestyle
Homelessness also puts youth at a higher risk of mental-health distress.
“Lack of access to stable housing, food, education, safety and supports are all identifiable and addressable human rights violations occurring at the both the individual and systemic levels,” according to the authors of the report.
The report introduces several recommendations for all three levels of government. This includes implementing strategies to prevent and put an end to youth homelessness, as well as targeted investments. Specifically, strategies should focus on youth under 16 who are at risk of homelessness.
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