Surveying homeless youth is something Covenant House Toronto does every year, said Amanda Noble, Covenant House’s manager of research and evaluation. Photo by Michael Swan

Survey is digging deep into youth homelessness

By 
  • January 23, 2019

How young people end up homeless and what happens to them once they’re on the street are basic questions for those who want to end homelessness. 

Toronto’s Covenant House is hoping to find some answers in the second national survey on youth homelessness co-ordinated by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada.

The survey began Jan. 14 and continues for four weeks. It asks youth about their situation before they became homeless, what happened to them after they became homeless, and how they see themselves regaining or establishing a home for themselves. It also gets into such details as race, sexuality, experiences of trauma, immigration histories, addiction and education. When it’s done, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home will have data from about 2,000 youth which it will analyze and present in a report due out in the fall.

Fifteen-year-old Grade 10 student and Youth Speak News contributor Kathleena Henricus has never been close to becoming homeless, but she says she’s very interested in knowing what the survey turns up.

“These are our peers,” Henricus said. “So many of us have been born into privilege. Regardless of who we are, our racial background, simply by living in Canada a lot of us have privilege. As Catholics, we’ve had a lot of privilege growing up Catholic.”

Surveying homeless youth is something Covenant House Toronto does every year, said Amanda Noble, Covenant House’s manager of research and evaluation.

“We’re really just committed to evidence-based practice here at Covenant House,” she said.

But the national survey is special. It’s a chance to see where their youth fit into a national picture.

“Here in Toronto, we’ve seen an increase in refugees staying with us. We’ve seen an increase in our young who have been sexually exploited. We want to see if that’s also the case across Canada,” Noble said.

The hope is that this information will help shape government policy as well as programs at agencies serving youth and families, said A Way Home Canada’s director of policy and planning David French.

“Do we really understand why these young people became homeless? Do we really understand the trajectory for how young people could exit homelessness?” he asks. “We don’t have a good handle on the reality of youth homelessness. The first survey brought us a bit closer to that reality. The second survey, it’s been fine-tuned a bit to ensure that it’s pointing closer at social policy issues.”

The first survey was conducted in 2015 with the report delivered in 2016. 

Among the findings from the survey were that 40 per cent of youth (between 13 and 24) were under the age of 16 when they first experienced homelessness and 83 per cent experienced bullying at school.

A Way Home is also fine tuning its arguments to meet the priorities of the cost-cutting provincial government in Ontario and an anticipated Conservative majority later this year in Alberta. If governments are serious about cutting costs in welfare, policing, health care and the shelter system, they had better get serious about prevention, French argues. 

Getting to know homeless youth — both their suffering and their dreams — is a duty of faith, said Henricus.

“It’s at the heart of what we believe as individuals. It’s at the heart of Catholicism,” she said. 

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