Youth form a substantial part of homeless populations, both in Canada and abroad, but they are often overlooked. For the past 15 years, this issue has become increasingly visible across communities. It is estimated that youth make up about 20% of the population that uses shelters in Canada. This week’s infographic, published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, focuses on pathways to youth homelessness in the United States. The National Coalition for the Homeless is composed of a network of service providers, community activists, service providers and even people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness. Primary goals of the coalition include (1) the prevention of homelessness and (2) ensuring access to immediate needs for those experiencing homelessness.

The Road to Youth Homelessness by the National Coalition for the Homeless
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The infographic states that 500,000 unaccompanied youth experience homelessness in the U.S. yearly.  The term ‘unaccompanied youth’ is used to refer to youth who lack parental, foster or institutional care. Approximately half of these youth report that they left their home because of first-hand experiences with physical, sexual and emotional abuse. LGBTQ2 youth are significantly overrepresented in the population, comprising roughly two out of every five youth living in homelessness. The infographic also notes that youth moving out of foster care and criminal justice systems often find themselves without a home. 

There are strong similarities between the pathways to homelessness that exist for youth living in the United States and Canada. For example, a huge care gap also exists for youth leaving foster care homes in Canada. For a short introduction to the challenges facing foster youth aging out of care, I invite you to watch the video below, which briefly goes over the need for the development of a stronger support network for these youth in Canada.

Traditional responses to youth homelessness take a piece-meal approach, consisting of scattered programs and services. These responses also tend to be reactive, responding to the needs of youth only after they start living on the streets. Preventive approaches to youth homelessness have seen measured success abroad. Such an approach is more likely to have success treating the causes, rather than the symptoms, of homelessness. Early interventions into the lives of youth entering homelessness can be understood as a preventative measure against chronic homelessness. Building in stronger supports for youth leaving the foster care system in Canada can act as a form of homelessness prevention. 

Furthermore, there should be a visible difference in how services and supports are designed and delivered for youth living in homelessness compared to adults living in homelessness. Increasing funding for specialized supports, tailored to the needs of youth, is a step in the right direction.

While public knowledge and awareness has improved in recent years, there remain barriers to accessing and receiving adequate services and supports for homeless youth. Awareness about the issue, by sharing infographics like this one, can play a role in addressing youth homelessness, both in Canada and abroad. Youth living in homelessness need guidance and opportunities like any other young people transitioning to adulthood. Accordingly, we need to be doing a lot more for youth living in homelessness, this means investing more into supports and committing to long-term solutions.

Vineeth SekharanResearch AssistantYork University; Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub