Today in Canada, a rise in youth homelessness is being observed across the country. Despite common assumptions, the issue of street youth is not isolated to Toronto or Montreal, but has become pervasive across the country. Although accurate statistics are impossible to come by, the disturbing reality is that both urban centers and rural communities nationwide, are struggling to provide their youth with adequate, affordable housing. Issues surrounding the supply and affordability of housing, combined with personal circumstances characterized by instability, are distancing youth’s access to housing. These causes and their overall consequences, must be faced before lasting solutions can be shaped by society. Housing Canada’s street youth will be impossible without action at every level. Every Canadian citizen has an immense role to play in providing these youth with promising futures.
There are numerous causes which have led to the existence of youth homelessness in Canada. As with the wider study of homelessness, it must be stressed that no cause can be viewed exclusively from the others (Layton 2008: 54). The causes of this national crisis are extremely complex, and interconnected. However, despite this complexity, there are many patterns which have been found to exist among homeless youth. They have been found to be primarily social and economic.
The social factors contributing to homelessness are unique for each individual however, the majority of homeless youth report having been emotionally abused or neglected. According to the Enhanced Surveillance of Canadian Street Youth (E-SYS), conflict with parents was the principal reason that most street youth reported for having left home. LGBT youth are over-represented among homeless youth, as they have often been kicked out of their homes upon coming out to their parents. Street youth can often be characterized by having dealt with a certain degree of instability and conflict, particularly at home. Many of these youth have been raised in foster homes and other environments lacking the social, and often economic stability, necessary for seamless transitions into society and the workforce. Over 15% of homeless youth reported their families as having suffered from homelessness at some point. Physical and sexual abuse is often extremely prevalent among street youth. A study conducted in Toronto indicated that more than 70% of homeless youth had left home due to physical or sexual abuse. Finally, homeless youth tend to be characterized by their lack of resources and job readiness. In 2003, over 35% of Canadian street youth reported that they had dropped out of high school, or had been permanently expelled. These social causes only serve to perpetuate homelessness from the economic side.
According to former NDP leader Jack Layton (Layton 2008: xix), the economic causes of youth homelessness can be summarized by stating that homelessness is an issue of both supply and affordability ....