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

Youth Homelessness Throughout the Pandemic

57% of service providers noted that meeting basic needs such as food and shelter was one of the largest challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

43% were challenged to access PPE, and 40% faced difficulty in finding safe spaces for self-isolation. 10% of respondents also identified difficulty accessing health care for symptomatic youth.

80% of service providers reported limited access in mental health supports for youth in need.

Many providers reported increases in the level of suicidal ideation (36%), incidences of self-harm (25%), and suicide attempts (15%) among young people since the pandemic began.

Over 90% of youth service providers report an increase in isolation and loneliness and boredom throughout the pandemic.

Additionally, providers reported that anxiety (85%) and depression (75%) had increased among their clients.



  • Up to 2,000 youth are homeless on any given night in Toronto.  Many more are experiencing hidden homelessness
  • 11% of homeless people in Toronto are youth
  • 1 in 100 youth in Toronto will experience homelessness over the course of a year
  • 32% of people experiencing homeless in Toronto will have first experienced homelessness before the age of 16
  • 78% of youth in Toronto shelters identify as a member of a racialized group
  • 12% of youth in Toronto shelters identify as Indigenous
  • 24% of those staying in youth shelters in Toronto identify as part of the LGBTQ2S+
  • 39% of youth struggling with homelessness struggle with their mental health
  • 13% of youth who seek safe shelter as refugee/asylum claimants
  • Youth shelters in Toronto are at 97% occupancy


  • 1 in 5 shelter users in Canada are youth.
  • 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.
  • 40% of youth homeless youth in Canada will have first experienced homelessness before the age of 16
  • Across Canada, up to 40,000 youth are homeless with 6,000 – 7,000 seeking a safe place to be sheltered tonight.

The longer youth remain homeless, the greater the negative outcomes. 

The causes of youth homelessness are distinct from adult homelessness and require distinct plans of support

  • 22% of youth identified family breakdown and conflict with parents at the primary reason the entered into homelessness
  • 63% have experienced some form of childhood trauma and abuse
  • Approximately 65% come from families that struggle with substance abuse
  • 26% 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

Impact of Homelessness

  • Approximately 60% of homeless youth have completed Grade 11 or less. Up to 65% have not completed high school
  • 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
  • Unemployment rates among high school drop­outs are twice that of high school graduates
  • 85.4% of youth experiencing homelessness report high symptoms of distress
  • 42% of youth experiencing homelessness report at least one suicide attempt

Long -Term Implications of Youth Homelessness

  • 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
  • Youth experiencing homelessness have difficulty developing long-­term, healthy, trusting relationships

Sources include: City of Toronto: 2021 Street Need Assessment (City of Toronto, 2021); 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 6% are homeless by choice.

Top 5 reasons youth experience homelessness in Toronto

  • Conflict with parent/guardian (22%)
  • Not enough income for housing (15%)
  • Experiencing abuse by parent/guardian (8%)
  • Conflict with others (7%)
  • Unfit/unsafe living conditions (6%)


MYTH: They are to blame for being homeless.
FACT: Most homeless people are victims. Some have suffered from child abuse or violence. 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. In Toronto, more than 90% of the overall homeless population are staying in sheltered services. Further, 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, accessing income supports, or obtaining 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 39% of youth experiencing homelessness in Toronto are estimated to be struggling with mental health issues (such as extremely high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression), while 14% have a diagnosed mental health illness. Youth have also made links with towards their homelessness vs 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 39% 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 include: City of Toronto: 2021 Street Need Assessment (City of Toronto, 2021); 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.) The Road To Solutions by Raising the Roof, March 2009


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: 2021 Street Needs Assessment

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.


Pandemic Statistic Sources:

Findings from Pandemic Proof: Synthesizing Real-World Knowledge of Promising Mental Health and Substance Use Practices for Young People Who Are Experiencing or Have Experienced Homelessness

Thulien, N.S., Noble, A., Akdikmen, A., Ali, D., Coplan, I., Daley, M., French, D., Hwang, S.W., Kidd, S., & Roglich, J. (2020). Pandemic Proof: Synthesizing Real-World Knowledge of Promising Mental Health and Substance Use Practices Utilized During the COVID19 Pandemic with Young People Who Are Experiencing or Have Experienced Homelessness. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press. YOUTH HOMELESSNESS: MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE USE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC 3 ISBN: 9781550146776 © 2020 Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press

Amanda Buchnea, Mary-Jane McKitterick, David French (2020). Summary Report: Youth Homelessness and COVID-19: How the youth serving sector is coping with the crisis. Toronto, ON: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press and A Way Home Canada. ISBN: 978-1-77355-039-8

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