Facts & Stats*

  • It is estimated that there are as many as 1,000 to 2,000 homeless youth on a given night in Toronto.

  • In Canada, there are a minimum of 35,000 youth over
    the course of the year without a place to call home and as many as 7,000 on a given night.

  • It is estimated that the mortality rate of homeless youth is up to 40 times the mortality rate of housed youth with primary causes of death identified as suicide and drug overdose.

  • Abuse and neglect are the two major reasons why youth leave home. Studies show 70 percent of homeless youth have suffered some form of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

  • 50 percent of homeless youth come from middle- and upper-income familes.

  • 65 percent of homeless youth have failed to complete high school.

  • 77 percent of homeless youth are unemployed.

  • About 43 percent of homeless youth have been involved in the child welfare system.

  • Some 30 percent of homeless youth have been involved in some form of the sex trade.

  • In Toronto, about half of street youth surveyed said they had stolen food and eaten food that had been thrown out. 23 percent of the young women and 11 percent of the men said they’d resort to trading sex for food.

  • In Toronto, one in five homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

Who Are Homeless Youth?

Young men: 64% of homeless youth (youth are under 25) are male. 91% of these men and 72% of females are between the ages of 19 and 25. Studies have shown that these youth generally leave home around the age of 15.

  • Poorly educated: Most men - 56% have grade 11 or less, 31% have grade 12 and 12% have university or college or technical school. For women, 60% have grade 11 or less, 33% have grade 12 and 6% have university, college or technical school.

  • Of those who attended school and were assessed by counsellors, 25.6% were diagnosed with anger management problems, 19.1% with ADHD, 15.2% with hyperactivity and 4.5% with dyslexia.

The Causes Of Homelessness

People become homeless for a wide variety of reasons - loss of a job, marital breakdown, mental illness and alcohol and drug addiction. But when it comes to youth and children, the reasons tend to revolve around the family.

  • Missing child reports:  In 2003 in Canada, there was a record total of 53,459 reports of runaway children. While these are reports, and not individual children, this figure represents an alarming 24 percent increase over the past decade.

  • Abuse in the home: Ultimately, experts say that the vast majority of youth or children rarely leave happy homes for the streets. Several studies have indicated that 70% of youth have experienced some form of sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Many of the rest simply felt neglected.

  • A shortage of good jobs and affordable housing: A recent study by the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAS) found that in 2000, housing was a factor in one in five cases where children were taken into care by the CAS – a dramatic 60% increase over a similar study in 1992.

On The Street

When youth become homeless, they don’t all automatically end up sleeping on street grates or in doorways. In fact, they end up staying in a variety of places.

A 1999 survey found that:

  • 60% of street youth are staying in one of Toronto’s youth shelters.

  • 25% staying in an apartment (92% were staying with friends and 'couch surfing').

  • 15% staying on the street of which 4% were living in squats, and 9% in parks, alleys, and doorways.

How They Earn Money

In 1999, the most comprehensive study about how street kids make their money was conducted by the Shout Clinic, which offers health care to homeless youth.

Among the findings:

  • 36% of street youth earn money by panhandling or "squeegeeing".

  • 19% do break and enters or sell drugs.

  • 18% receive social assistance.

  • 17% have paid employment.

  • 10% do sex trade work.

Most have worked in the sex trade. 31% including men and women reported engaging in street prostitution, phone or Internet sex, or massage/stripping at least once in their lives.

The Hazards Of Homelessness

Living on the street is no picnic. While it’s true that some youth seek the streets for adventure - and are derisively labelled “weekend warriors” or “twinkies” - and eventually return home, most street youth are there simply because there’s nowhere else to go. And on the street there is the constant threat of violence, exploitation, drugs and illness.

In one 2002 study:

  • 45.7% of street youth reported being attacked in the past year, as compared to 6.3% for their non-homeless peers.

  • 52.8% reported being threatened with an attack.

  • 42% had been sexually assaulted or threatened with sexual assault.

Sickness And Death

Street youth are more likely to get sick and even die on the streets. A recent study that examined the mortality rate among homeless youth was carried out in Montreal between 1995 and 2000 and looked at 1,013 young people between the ages of 14 and 25. Originally, the study was designed to examine rates of HIV and Hepatitis infection among youth. But the researchers began to realize that some of their subjects were disappearing. They began checking the coroner’s records and discovered an alarming rate of deaths - mostly caused by suicide and drug overdose.

By June 2001, 26 of the 1,013 participants - 22 boys and 4 girls had died, or a mortality rate of .89% per 100 person years. Note: the total figure is really 29 but three were not included in the above number because they had not been on the street for two years or more. The homeless youth mortality rate was 11 times higher than the rate of the general population of Quebec. A more recent study indicates the mortality rate is closer to 40 times for homeless youth.

Street youth pregnancies: A study conducted in 1997-98 by the Hospital for Sick Children and the Shout Clinic among 93 street-involved females found that an alarming number of street youth have pregnancies. There was a total of 118 pregnancies among the women.

The study found that:

  • 59% reported having been or currently were pregnant.

  • The average age of first pregnancy was 16.7 years.

  • At the time of the first pregnancy
    • 29% of youth were living on the street
    • 27% in shelters, and
    • 43% with friends or family.

  • 32% of all pregnancies were miscarried

  • 22% were terminated electively

  • 34% delivered and

  • 12% were still pregnant.

Female street youth are more likely to get pregnant than women who are not homeless at a rate two to three times greater. The younger someone became homeless and the longer they stayed on the street, the greater probability they would become pregnant.

Miscarriages were two to four times higher among street youth than the general population. This was attributed to poor nutrition, increased rates of substance abuse and sexually transmitted disease.  The study concluded that the reasons for higher rates of pregnancy among street youth is connected to socio-economic status and self-esteem: many feel it may bring a dramatic change to a hopeless situation, giving them access to more emotional and financial support, more sense of empowerment by the responsibility of caring for a child, a sense of family where they don’t otherwise have one, and the hope they will be treated with more respect.

*As compiled by CBC’s The Fifth Estate for its segment, “No Way Home”.

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