Every night, thousands of youth across Canada curl up on street corners, park benches, friends’ couches or in emergency shelters, according to a new report.

While Canada is not alone in grappling with the problem of youth homelessness, the report said, “Canada has not succeeded in either quantifying the issue or in responding with comprehensive, lasting solutions.”

In January 2006 Raising the Roof launched Youthworks – a national initiative aimed at breaking the cycle of homelessness among young Canadians – that undertook a three-year research project to track and describe the experiences of 689 street-involved youth in three Canadian cities – Calgary, Toronto and St. John’s.

Their report, Youth Homelessness in Canada: The Road to Solutions, focused on three essential service and support system components: prevention, emergency response and transitions out of homelessness.

Prevention addresses the key triggers of youth homelessness; emergency response – which includes youth shelters, access and outreach programs – seeks to address the immediate needs of street-involved youth to stabilize their situation; and transitions out of homelessness is anchored in affordable, supportive accommodation and an array of supports to help youth fulfill their potential and successfully integrate into mainstream society.

“Our research shows that street-involved youth often require diverse, multi-faceted, intensive models of support – support that may include appropriate, affordable housing, education, skills training and employment opportunities, health services, mentorship and much more,” said the report.

“It is also important that these supports are youth-focused; the needs of street-involved youth are very different from those of homeless adults.”

Youthworks emphasized the need to provide culturally appropriate services and supports, especially for Aboriginal youth and other visible minorities, new immigrants, LGBT and those with disabilities.

“There are many misconceptions about street-involved youth,” they said. “Prejudice and stereotyping are common and there is little understanding of the social and economic impact of failing to address this issue. Public education will be an important element of any strategic national response.”

Their report outlined key recommendations on what must be done to give street youth the opportunity and support they need to get off the streets. Among them are funding for successful programs for street youth, more educational and employment opportunities, housing specifically for street youth and the development of specific government policies to address the needs of this population.

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.