We began this chapter on Child & Youth Studies by noting that leaving home is often a rite of passage that is celebrated in our society. Young adults leave home to attend school, get married, and/or purchase a home of their own. These are all milestone achievements. However, some youth leave or are pushed out of their homes in ways that are traumatic and have potentially life-altering implications.


At the start of the chapter, we introduced you to the composite characters Enzo, Jake, and Miriam, who were each young people experiencing homelessness in their own way. The scenarios were presented as an entry point into thinking about the complexity of youth homelessness. We returned to these individuals’ stories again at the end to demonstrate how they can help us understand the foundational concepts of being trauma-informed, person-centred, socially inclusive, and situated within the social determinants of health as critical for understanding homelessness in Canada.


We then asked you to consider three questions along the way, with the guidance of leading homelessness researchers.


First we asked, ‚ÄúWhy do some young people become homeless?‚ÄĚ Here we learned that the reasons are complex and often develop over a period of time. We considered the three different, yet inter-related aspects, that contribute to youth homelessness. These include interpersonal factors, such as discord within a young person‚Äôs family or school, structural issues that create inequities and discrimination, and systemic failures within institutions. It was clearly argued in this section that young people become homeless because society allows them to, such as through involvement with the child welfare system that acts as a common pathway onto the street. Rather than focusing on individual causes, we need to see the bigger picture of how our society creates the conditions that allow youth homelessness to occur.


Next we asked, ‚ÄúWhat are the challenges these young people face?‚ÄĚ While the street may initially seem like a respite from a difficult environment, it soon reveals itself to be an extremely dangerous and exploitative place. Young people are often mistakenly thought to be dangerous and/or criminal offenders yet are actually at much higher risk of being victimized themselves. This risk is increased for some groups of youth based on factors such as being Indigenous, racialized, living with a disability, female-identified, and/or identifying as LGBTQ2S+. For young people, homelessness is a traumatic and stressful experience that forces them to constantly operate in survival mode. As they attempt to move off the streets and find stability, they often encourage barriers such as a lack of education, employment opportunities, and life skills needed for living independently. While they show remarkable personal strength, transitioning out of homelessness is a challenging process that takes time and hard work.


Finally, we asked, ‚ÄúHow can young people be supported to exit homelessness permanently?‚ÄĚ In this final section, we looked at ways to help these young people as they undertake this challenging work. We learned that rather than becoming instantly housed, it is often a process in which a youth moves back and forth, progressing towards increased independence and stability. Programmatic interventions, such as Upstream Canada can help to identify youth at risk of homelessness while they are in a school setting, but this has not yet been widely adopted. Family Reconnect can be used to help young people and their families work through challenges, but only if safe to do so. Housing First helps move young people into secure and appropriate housing, with wrap-around supports based on their self-identified needs. These interventions have all shown promising outcomes, based on the foundation that young people are rights-holders who are capable of making autonomous decisions regarding their own lives.


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Understanding Homelessness in Canada Copyright © 2022 by Kristy Buccieri, James Davy, Cyndi Gilmer, and Nicole Whitmore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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