Youth Homelessness

The City of Toronto is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Nonetheless, we have the largest homeless population in Canada.

  • Statistics
    • 28% of homeless people in Toronto are youth.
    • 3300 to 10,000 youth experience homelessness over the course of a year ( 1 in 100 youth) in Toronto.
    • 850 to 2,000 youth are homeless on any given night in Toronto.  Many more are experiencing hidden homelessness.
    • Youth face barriers to income support, education, paid employment and rental accommodation simply due to their age.
    • The longer youth remain homeless, the worse their health and life chances become.
    • Across Canada, up to 40,000 youth are homeless with 6,000 – 7000 seeking a safe place to be sheltered tonight.
    • 20% of the Canadian homelessness population are youth between 13 and 24.
    • The causes of youth homelessness are distinct from adult homelessness and require distinct plans of support.
    • 1 in 5 shelter users in Canada are youth.
    • 40% will have first experienced homelessness before the age of 16
  • Causes
    • Represent all levels of socio­economic, religious and cultural background and sexual orientation.
    • They are between the ages of 16 and 24.
    • 60% of our clients are male.
    • 21% of those staying in youth shelters in Toronto identify as part of the LGBTQ2S community.
    • 28.2% identify as member of racialized communities.
    • 22% born outside of Canada
    • 63% have experienced some form of childhood trauma and abuse.
    • Are three times as likely to experience high mental health risks.
    • 42% report at least one suicide attempt.
    • 85.4% report high symptoms of distress.
    • 57.8%  have a history of foster care or group home involvement.
    • Approximately 65% come from families with substance abuse problems.
    • Prior to arriving at YWS, 40% have gone without food for at least one day in the past week. They are nutritionally vulnerable.
    • Approximately 60% of homeless youth have completed Grade 11 or less. Up to 65% have not completed high school.

    Long ­term Implications Of Youth Homelessness

    • The longer youth remain homeless, the greater the negative outcomes. Early intervention is key.
    • Inevitable health problems during a time of rapid adolescent growth.
    • Do not develop long ­term, healthy, trusting relationships.
    • Leaving school early creates a disadvantage in the employment marketplace. Unemployment rates among high school drop­outs are twice that of high school graduates.
    • 1 in 3 youth experiencing homelessness graduate high school vs. 9 in 10 housed youth.

    Sources include:  Towards An Ontario Youth Homelessness Strategy (Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, 2016); Without A Home, The National Youth Homelessness Survey (2016: Stephen Gaetz, Bill O’Grady, Sean Kidd, Kaitlin Schwan, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, A Way Home, The Home Depot Canada Foundation/The Orange Door Project.)

  • Myths

    MYTH: They want to be homeless.
    FACT: Less than six per cent are homeless by choice.

    MYTH: They are to blame for being homeless.
    FACT: Most homeless people are victims. Some have suffered from child abuse or violence. Nearly one quarter are children. Many have lost their jobs. All have lost their homes.

    MYTH: Most homeless people live on the street.
    FACT: Most homeless people don’t live on the street. More than 80% of Canada’s homeless are improperly housed or on the verge of eviction. Many are sleeping in temporary beds – with friends or relatives, in church basements, in welfare motels, in abandoned buildings and vehicles, and in other sites away from the public eye. They are the hidden homeless.

    MYTH: They don’t work.
    FACT: Many homeless people are among the working poor. A person earning a minimum wage can’t earn enough to support a family of three or pay inner­city rent.

    MYTH: They are mentally ill.
    FACT: About 40 per cent of the homeless are estimated to be struggling with mental health. One per cent may need long­term hospitalization; the others can become self­ sufficient with help.

    MYTH: They are heavy drug users.
    FACT: Some homeless are substance abusers; research suggests one in five. Many of these are included in the 30 per cent who suffer from mental illness.

    MYTH: They are dangerous.
    FACT: Sometimes an encounter with the homeless may end in tragedy. However, this is extremely rare. In general, the homeless are among the least threatening group in our society. They are often the victims of crimes, not the perpetrators.

    Sources: CBC News Report No Way Home 2004; Youth Homelessness in Canada, The Road To Solutions by Raising the Roof, March 2009; Improving the Health of Canadians: Mental Health and Homelessness 2006 Toronto by Canadian Institute for Health Information; Youth Homelessness in Canada, Implications for Policy and Practice 2013 by The Homeless Hub; State of Homelessness in Canada 2013 by Canadian Homelessness Research Network; Quick Facts Infographic About Homelessness: 2014 City of Toronto Shelter & Housing.

  • Resources

    To learn more about homelessness please refer to the following studies and resources.

    Homeless Hub: What would it take: Youth across Canada speak out on Youth Homelessness Prevention (Kaitlin Schwan, Stephen Gaetz, David French, Melanie Redman, Jesse Thistle, Erin Dej, 2018)

    Homeless Hub: Opportunity Knocks:  Prioritizing Canada’s Most Vulnerable Youth (David French, Stephen Gaetz, Melanie Redman, 2017)

    Homeless Hub: Towards An Ontario Youth Homelessness Strategy (Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, 2016)

    Without A Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey (Stephen Gaetz, Bill O’Grady, Sean Kidd, Kaitlin Schwan, 2016)

    Newcomer Youth Homelessness (City of Toronto Shelter and Housing Division, Munk School of Global Affairs, Capstone Project, 2017)

    Making the shift: Reimagining the response to youth homelessness through social innovation (A Way Home, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, Mars Centre, 2017)

    Community Services Database:

    Youth Homelessness in Canada: Implications for Policy and Practice, April 2013

    The State of Homelessness in Canada 2014

    Coming of Age 2014: Reimagining the Response to Youth Homelessness in Canada

    Coming Together: Tackling Unemployment Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness, 2015 by The Home Depot Canada Foundation and Impakt Corporation

    Toronto Star: Poverty the leading cause of youth homelessness: 2016 Study

    A Child Welfare and Youth Homelessness in Canada: Proposal for Action, 2017 by Naomi Nichols, Kaitlin Schwan, Stephen Gaetz, Melanie Redman, David French, Sean A. Kidd, Bill O’Grady.