Youth homelessness is a national, as well as a local issue. The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness has just released “Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey”, which has provided data on youth homelessness for the first time in Canada. This data has certainly underlined the scale of the problem: the survey showed that 85.4% of homeless youth were experiencing a mental health crisis and 42% of homeless youth reported at least one suicide attempt. 35.2% of homeless youth reported having at least one drug overdose requiring hospitalization.

The obstacles to dealing with these situations include lack of adequate funding, long waitlists for what services are available, and the walls that exist between service agencies such as schools, health agencies, and social services, and a focus on emergency care and response, rather than prevention.

The Survey notes that: “While mental health and housing status are intimately linked, our policies and programs have been insufficiently funded and coordinated to enable effective, timely, and appropriate care for some of the most marginalized young people in our country”.

On any given night there are at least 6,500 young Canadians who experience homelessness and approximately 50,000 over the course of a year. There is also what the survey calls “the hidden homeless population”, which includes young people “couch surfing” at the home of friends. These homeless young people are not visible, sleeping rough on the streets, but they are without stable and secure accommodation nevertheless. Young people between the ages of 13-24 make up around 20% of the homeless population in Canada.

The survey makes recommendations for both federal and provincial levels of government. A copy of the full report can be found at www.homelesshub.ca/YouthWithoutHome.

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