The Invisibility of Disability for Homeless Youth

A largely unexplored complexity in the lives of youth who have experienced homeless is the presence of intellectual, developmental and/or learning disabilities. Although emerging research shows that youth with cognitive disabilities are more likely to become homeless and that rates of cognitive disabilities are higher among the homeless population than the population in general, exploring the intersection of disability and homelessness for youth has not been a priority. In this study, a critical disability and systems failure lens is brought to bear on the vulnerability of youth who experience this intersection. Based on interviews with key informants in the disability, homelessness, education, employment and child welfare sectors in three sites in Ontario, Canada, the invisibility of disability among homeless youth is brought to light. We explore the ways youth with a disability in the homelessness sector are made vulnerable, the insurmountable barriers to getting access to the requisite assessment for disability services and the siloed nature of the homelessness and disability service sectors. An argument is made that “working outside the box” to assist youth to navigate significant system disjunctures is insufficient.

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Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless