Who We Are

Youth Homelessness

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

Demand for our services is increasing. Youth make up the fastest-growing population of homeless people in Canada, and their needs are changing, requiring longer stays and deeper support.

The longer youth remain homeless, the greater the negative outcomes. Early intervention is key.

1,500 – 2,000 YOUTH

  • 28% of homeless people in Toronto are youth.
  • 850 to 2,000 youth are homeless on any given night in Toronto.  Many more are experiencing hidden homelessness.
  • 3300 to 10,000 youth experience homelessness over the course of a year (1in 100 youth) in Toronto.
  • More than a third of young people who experience homelessness in Canada are from Ontario
  • 20% of the Canadian homelessness population are youth between 13 and 24.
    • 60% identify as male, and 36.4% identify as female
  • 40% will have first experienced homelessness before the age of 16
  • 74% of youth in Toronto shelters identify as a member of a racialized group
  • 14% of youth in Toronto shelters identify as Indigenous
  • Health conditions:
    • 12% have a physical disability
    • 18% have an addiction
    • 39% have a mental health issue
  • 24%of those staying in youth shelters in Toronto identify as part of the LGBTQ2S
  • Groups that also reported higher rates of multiple experiences included transgender and gender non-binary youth (82.8%), LGBTQ2S youth (80.2%), and Indigenous youth (80.4%).
  • 22% born outside of Canada
    • 14% are immigrants
    • 30% are refugee/asylum claimant
  • Youth experience an average of 2.0 episodes of homelessness a year (meaning they experienced homelessness twice in one year)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Youth shelters are at 97% occupancy
  • 77.5% of cases are caused by family breakdown
  • 63% have experienced some form of childhood trauma and abuse.
  • Approximately 65% come from families with substance abuse problems.
  • 43 percent of youth who experience homelessness have had child welfare system involvement at some point in their lives, sometimes moving through multiple foster homes and group homes before ending up on the streets

Long ­term Implications of Youth Homelessness

  • Prior to arriving at YWS, 40% have gone without food for at least one day in the past week. They are nutritionally vulnerable.
  • Increased risk of exploitation, violence, victimization, physical and sexual abuse.
  • Greater involvement with the police and the justice system.
  • Disengagement from school and difficulty obtaining employment.
  • Approximately 60% of homeless youth have completed Grade 11 or less. Up to 65% have not completed high school.
    • 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.
    • Some youth discussed cycling in and out of family homelessness, trying to hide their poverty from their classmates, and experiencing neglect
    • Youth emphasized the interdependency between housing, employment, and education, explaining how difficult it is to remain in school or employed without a home
  • 85.4% report high symptoms of distress.
  • Increased use of substances to cope.
  • Inevitable health problems during a time of rapid adolescent growth
  • Mental health issues are then both a contributor to youth homelessness, but also a barrier to transitioning from the
  • 42% report at least one suicide attempt.
  • Do not develop long ­term, healthy, trusting relationships.

The longer youth remain homeless, the greater the negative outcomes. Early intervention is key.

 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.)


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

Top 5 reasons

  • Conflict with parent/guardian
  • Migration (17%)
  • unable to pay rent/mortgage (10%)
  • Unsafe housing condition (7%)
  • 5%: evicted (non-financial reasons), conflict with landlord, addiction or substance use, experience abuse by parent/guardian

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. Individuals who have had previous experiences with foster care are at a higher risk for experiencing homelessness, particularly when transitioning from foster care.  For many young people, their first experience of homelessness occurs well before they are entitled to access interventions and supports.  Most youth traced the origins of their homelessness back to systems failures

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 inner­-city rent. Youth vividly described experiences of discrimination and stigmatization when applying to rent housing, access income supports, or obtain a job.  They may not have the education or experience required to get even a minimum-wage job. They likely don’t know how to look for apartments, and even if they do, they’ll find many landlords are hostile to the idea of teen tenants.

MYTH: They are mentally ill.
FACT: About 40% 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. Youth also linked their homelessness to mental health and health issues that went untreated due to the limited availability of supports and services.

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% 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.


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

Local Love: What people just don’t get about homeless youth in Canada (2020)

City of Toronto: Street Need Assessment 2018

Toronto Foundation: Vital Signs Report 2019/20

Homeless Hub: Supporting communities to prevent and end homelessness

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: www.211toronto.ca

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.

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