Youth Homelessness

Youth homelessness is a seemingly intractable problem in Canada, but the plight of street kids remains largely misunderstood.

Across the country, in large and smaller communities alike, vulnerable young people find themselves with no place to call home – couch-surfing with friends, staying in shelters, in squats or on the street in alleys, doorways or parks.

Over the course of the year, the number of young people who spend some time homeless in Canada is as many as 40,000, and on any given night, there may be up to 7,000 homeless youth.[1]

Contrary to the stereotype that kids are on the street because they don’t want to live by their parents’ rules, most have fled or been forced out of homes where they experienced abuse and childhood trauma.[2] Some 60 percent of homeless youth have had involvement with child welfare.[3] Mental health issues are also a major factor in youth homelessness. At Covenant House, about 40 percent of our youth seek treatment for mental health. Certain significant groups of youth are over-represented, including Aboriginal youth[4], and in cities like Toronto, black youth[5]. LGBTQ youth make up between 25-40 percent of the homeless youth population.[6]

Homeless kids come from every part of the country and every background. About 40 percent of the homeless youth we see come from middle- and upper- income families. In a recent study, 40 percent of homeless youth were under 16 when they first experienced homelessness.[7]

While young people may think running to the street is a solution, they soon find it can lead them on a dangerous, and often deadly, path. Desperate and alone, the young are easy prey to those who wait to lure them into drugs, sex trafficking and gangs.

So why don’t homeless kids just get a life?

With no fixed address, regular meals, clean clothes or showers, it’s hard to imagine going to school or finding and keeping a job. Most homeless kids lack the education, job experience or life skills to move to independence.

But perhaps their greatest challenge is their lack of the self-worth and the confidence to believe that they can succeed. Like all kids, homeless youth need opportunity and hope to fulfill their potential. At Covenant House, we offer a wide range of services and support to become productive and successful adults.


[1-3] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S., & Schwan, K. (2016): Without A Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[4] Baskin, C. (2013). Shaking Off the Colonial Inheritance: Homeless Indigenous Youth Resist, Reclaim and Reconnect. Toronto: Canadian Observatory On Homelessness.

[5] Springer, J.; Lum, J.; Roswell, T. (2013). Policy Challeges to Homelessness Among Caribbean Youth in Toronto. Toronto: Canadian Observatory On Homelessness.

[6] Abramovich, A.I. (2013). No Fixed Address: Young, Queer, and Restless. Toronto: Canadian Observatory On Homelessness.

[7] Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S., & Schwan, K. (2016): Without A Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.


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