Youth Homelessness in Toronto

by Gary Seward
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Homeless shelters have been filling fast in Toronto in recent years. Some people may be surprised to learn that the most shocking reason is the record high number of youth that are filling them. Covenant House is one of the biggest resources for troubled youth in Toronto, and they have reported their numbers keep increasing, with a bleak outlook becoming all too real for the youth who now find themselves in a position where there’s nowhere else to go with no outlook on improving their circumstances.

“Why can’t you just get a job?” is a minimizing and insulting exclamation that has been heard by many within Generation Y, but for the estimated 10,000 homeless youth (per year) in Toronto, it’s one of the statements often heard on repeat. Often referred to as “street kids,” the homeless youth are looked upon as a plague needing to be swept away and are often completely misunderstood.

“Why can’t you get a job?” “Get a life.” “Obey your parents.” These utterances seem to be the real plague. It’s this ignorance shared by many that have labeled the 2,000 “street kids” that are estimated to be squatting on the streets of Toronto as I type this. If it isn’t as simple as getting a job or a life, then why are there so many young people without a stable shelter? If it were so easy to get an entry level position, which most people believe to be true, then why are so many youth littered onto the streets?

Upon inspection, it seems to be a much more complicated issue then many realize. In fact, while youth homelessness has risen in recent years, what they go through or experience in everyday life is still a mystery. There aren’t many articles being written, politicians aren’t talking about it, and the everyday Torontonian treat them like they do a house spider; they know they’re there, but ignoring it is much simpler.

Youth Homelessness in Toronto - Fresh PrintThe truth is this epidemic reveals a few startling facts. First, most of the youth aren’t just choosing to squat outside their parent’s house because they don’t want to obey the rules. Most of the kids out on the streets come from middle-upper income families and have bolted from severe abuse. And with an estimated 35% of them facing mental health issues, a different picture is being exposed.

Another Toronto shelter, Youth Without Shelter, estimates that 25-40% of the youth served there are LGBTQ. Many of them thrown out of their homes just for being gay, lesbian, transsexual*, queer. For most fleeing is the only option.

Of course, we may know it isn’t the solution to many problems. When they hit the streets they get caught in a spiral that is unrelenting. And because the average ages of the youth when they leave their homes are 15, they face some severe challenges. A study at St. Thomas University found that homeless youth are 11 times more likely to die young than their peers. Suicide rates are high. Without a job some resort to panhandling, stealing, and sex work. With no address, access to regular facilities to bathe or wash their clothes, a stable phone or address, it’s exceedingly difficult to get a job or enrol in school. Meaning the vast majority of these kids completely lack the skills in order to progress through life and escape this vicious downward spiral.

Why can’t these street kids just get a life, job, home? Maybe it’s the system that’s truly to blame for this severe issue.

While most youth aren’t aware of the resources being offered, The Covenant House, located at 20 Gerrard St. E., is one temporary sanctuary that many can use on a daily basis. With job training programs, a crisis shelter, mental health programs and more there may still be hope for a small percentage of youth that are trusting enough to enrol.

Or maybe they’ll continue to be that spider you saw in the corner of your living room yesterday.

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