APPROXIMATELY 20% OF ALL HOMELESS PEOPLE IN CANADA ARE BETWEEN THE AGES OF 13 AND 25.
This means that over the course of the year there are close to 50,000 young people who experience homelessness.
On any given night in Canada, there are over 6,000 young people who experience homelessness and either sleep out of doors or access emergency shelters. An even greater number are part of the hidden homeless population and ‘couch surf’ by temporarily staying with family or friends.
There is no indication that the situation is getting any better.
To tackle the problem, we must begin by recognizing that youth homelessness is distinct from adult homelessness in terms of its causes and conditions, and therefore so must be the solutions.
WE BELIEVE THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO PREVENT, REDUCE AND ULTIMATELY END YOUTH HOMELESSNESS
When we say this, we do not mean that there will never be young people forced to leave home in a crisis who will need emergency supports and temporary housing.
There will continue to be people in both urban and rural areas who must leave home because of family conflict and violence, eviction or other emergencies, as well as those who simply face challenges in making the transition to independent living.
Rather, ending youth homelessness means eliminating a broad social problem that traps young people in an ongoing state of homelessness.
When young people and their families do not have access to necessary supports, homelessness is often a result. Many young people are forced to leave their communities, and, without access to permanent and age appropriate housing and necessary supports, come to depend on emergency services.
Becoming mired in homelessness often leads to exploitation, declining health and wellbeing, and most certainly an uncertain future. Without appropriate prevention strategies or early interventions that help young people get off the streets as quickly as possible, they may become entrenched in a lifelong struggle with poverty, addiction and mental health challenges. We also know that repeated cycles of youth homelessness can lead to chronic adult homelessness.
To ensure that young people do not become trapped in homelessness, we must stop their “transition” into adult homelessness and ultimately into a life-long reliance on the adult social service sector.
YOUTH HOMELESSNESS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE IN A CARING SOCIETY.
Falling into homelessness and becoming entrenched in the street youth lifestyle means a number of long-term consequences:
* Increased risk of exploitation, violence, victimization, physical and sexual abuse.
* Greater involvement with the police and the justice system.
* Disengagement from school and difficulty getting a job.
* Mental health problems and addictions, because life on the streets is inherently stressful.
* Difficulty getting off the streets and moving forward with her/his life; many chronically homeless adults we see on the streets today experienced homelessness when they were young.
As a society we have perhaps become complacent, even indifferent to this problem. It is not enough to simply provide emergency supports like shelters and day programs for these youth.
We must do more, and we can do more.
All levels of government have not sufficiently supported communities who are working to address this issue. Youth homelessness will not be solved by community alone.
WE CAN PREVENT, REDUCE AND END YOUTH HOMELESSNESS IN CANADA
This can happen if:
* The general public and decision-makers understand that youth homelessness can and must be ended.
* We adopt a Family First philosophy and ensure that young people and their families have access to the necessary resources and supports to reduce the risk of homelessness.
* All responses to youth homelessness, including Housing First, must be conceived, planned and implemented based on the needs of the developing adolescent and young adult.
* Communities, governments, organizations and interested individuals work together to support change (Collective Impact).
* Necessary resources – including affordable housing and youth focused supports – are implemented and lead to solutions to youth homelessness.
* Young people are engaged as active partners in developing solutions to youth homelessness.
Role of the Learning Community in Preventing, Reducing and Ending Youth Homelessness
The role of the Learning Community in preventing, reducing and ending youth homelessness includes:
* Informing the national agenda of A Way Home from a service delivery perspective
* Identifying and disseminating emerging and promising practices that are showing results in preventing, reducing and ending youth homelessness
* Supporting and leveraging youth voice tables and networks across the country