The Homeless Youth Crisis in Canada is Exploding

"Youth are often identified as leaders of this generation, the hidden gems to bring new ideas and revolutions for our society and planet."

Behind the scenes and out in the streets, youth homelessness is one of the ongoing issues in Canada that require urgent attention from all levels such as community, provincial and national levels.

It’s 2017, and the first pan-Canada survey to provide a national picture on the youth led by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, in partnership with A Way Home Canada, recently published Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey.  These astonishing numbers are now unsheltered from the streets and are exposed, deserving greater attention from all community members and leaders. This self-report survey included 1,103 youth from 42 different communities and nine of the 10 Canadian provinces, and territory, Nunavut.

Youth are often identified as leaders of this generation, the hidden gems to bring new ideas and revolutions for our society and planet. Although it is important to furnish opportunities to further strengthen young innovators, it is equally important to remember to empower and provide opportunities for youth who facing challenges accessing basic human rights – such as a shelter to live.

The survey revealed the following numbers:

  • “Almost sixty percent (57.8%) of homeless youth in Canada report involvement with the child welfare system at some point in their lives, 193 times more likely than youth in the general population to report involvement with the child welfare system”
  • “On average, young people reported initial encounters with the child welfare system at 8.5 years of age and the termination of the relationship at 12.5 years of age. Close to a third of the study respondents (31.5%) reported that involvement began before the age of 6, and just over half (53%) reported that they were still involved with the child welfare system beyond the age of 16”
  • “40.1% were younger than 16 when they first experienced homelessness”
  • “75.9% had experienced multiple episodes of homelessness 36.9% had more than five experiences of homelessness”
  • “Almost one-third of the young people (31.4%) in our study were chronically homeless, meaning they were continuously homeless for more than one year”

Beyond the aspect of being “homeless,” there are many other social factors which hinder the integration of these affected youth in our society. To largely categorize, the access to education, health facilities, employment opportunities and security all impede on the well being of these affected Canadian youth.

For instance, the survey, Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey highlights that:


  • “50% of participants reported being tested for a learning disability while at school, indicating that school staff view these youth as suffering in some way”
  • Canada now has about “less than 9% drop out rate; for homeless youth, the rate is 53.2%.  Of those who dropped out, however, 73.9% would like to return to school”

Mental Health:

  • “85.4% of sampled youth reported high symptoms of distress”
  • “Within this sample, 42% of participants reported at least one suicide attempt and 35.2% reported having at least one drug overdose requiring hospitalization”


  • Canada’s unemployment rate for youth in general public is at 13.3% but 75.7% of youth indicated they were “unemployed, and only 19.7% currently had jobs”.
  • “50.5% of youth participants were not in employment, education, or training”

Crime victims

  • While 19% of Canadians report being a victim of crime in any given year, “68.7% of the sample had been victims of a crime.”
  • “While 7.6% of Canadians report being the victim of a violent crime, 59.6% of homeless youth report violent victimization, including high rates of sexual assault.  Young women (37.4%) and transgender/gender non-binary youth (41.3%) reported higher levels of sexual assault over the previous 12 months”

Numbers are unsheltered. In order to improve the situation for our Canadian youth who lack access to basic needs, community leaders have a role to play. The report highlights that one of the main reasons which accentuating the issue is due to “waiting much too long to intervene [as] in many jurisdictions, services for young people who experience homelessness are not available until they are 16 or even 18.” Thus, the report urges rapid mobilizations of intervention for youth before the situation becomes much more severe. Importantly highlighted in the report, the support and intervention must be tailored to address various needs and sensitivities for groups such as  Indigenous youth, LGBTQ2S-positive and young women and girls who often face greater risks.

Notably, the report states that “mental health and addictions issues among homeless youth are driven by experiences of violence, marginalization, and poverty. If we hope to address these mental health challenges, we must address the structural and systemic drivers of youth homelessness.”

In order to integrate the youth into our society, we, as the greater society, must accept them and foster safe space for integration through capacity building and empowering “engagement in all policy development, planning, and implementation processes.” Youth are the leaders, and youth must be given opportunities to overcome challenges and lead own lives in cooperation with community support and empowerment from all levels.

The report of Child Welfare and Youth Homelessness in Canada: A Proposal for Action based on the findings from Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey is available in PDF is here.

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