16-24 Homelessness in Canada

By: Mikayla Stechnicki

Mikayla Stechnicki: Have you ever wondered how many youth in Canada find themselves on the streets every night? Maybe because they don’t want to be at home, or they don’t feel welcome at home, or maybe simply because they don’t have a home.

Youth between the ages of 16 and 24 are one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population” (Kidd, Sean A., Jeff Karabanow, Jean Hughes, and Tyler Frederick 1035). In this episode of A Place For Passion, I will be looking at the risks and issues the youth face out on the streets, how Horizons for Youth has impacted and changed the lives of homeless and at-risk youth since 1994 (Our History – Horizons For Youth) and how Ontario is striving to solve this issue. Throughout this podcast you will be introduced to Bob Hall, an employee of Horizons for Youth, as well as an unnamed refuge who completed the programming offered through Horizons for Youth.

It is “estimated that every day, one hundred and fifty thousand youth are living on the streets in Canada” (Street Youth in Canada 1). Horizons for Youth is a sharing and growing community where everyone has a home, that aims to shelter, prepare and guide homeless and at risk youth to be contributing community members. How does Horizons for Youth influence or impact the lives of youth on a daily basis, a monthly basis or a yearly basis?

Bob Hall: Well on a daily basis, Horizons for youth, we are an emergency shelter providing up to 45 beds for youth between the ages of 16-24. And so in immediate support that we give them, we provide them a place to stay because for a lot of them would be homeless without having a shelter to go to.  We provide them beds, food and clothing as well. So there’s the immediate need. But also have our programs that are happening every single day where we give the opportunity for the youth to learn life skills, like how to cook a meal, how to budget your money, things like that, to help prepare them for independent living and to, as we would say “leave the streets behind”. And that happens every single day with the front line staff working with them, and we also provide ongoing counselling for mental health support on a daily basis as well as case management. So they would get a case manager to work with one on one and how reach their goals to not be homeless anymore and to find independent living and be apart of the community.

And on a monthly basis we have regular meetings with the youth to work with them to say hey what do you need from us, what kind of support are you looking for that you may not have gotten yet? Also with regards to the case manager, is on a monthly basis we introduce them to services in the city that a lot of youth think they don’t qualify for, or they aren’t aware of. And so we try to make sure they make those appointments, and they happen generally throughout the whole month.

Mikayla Stechnicki: The shelter, a red bricked home amongst a residential area near Caledonia and Eglinton in Toronto, which was dubbed a High Priority Area by the United Way, meets the needs of 1100 youth annually (Our History – Horizons For Youth). Which youth does Horizons for Youth include in the 1100 youth they help annually?

Bob Hall: We include not only the youth coming through our doors but we also include a lot of our we need your support clients, these are clients or youth that have been identified as at risk for whatever reason and there is a danger or a risk that they can go on the streets. So usually a youth worker or something will contact us and we add them to our community support program, where we keep communications open for them. Hopefully they don’t feel isolated and that we are there to support them.

Secondly it’s also for any youth that have been through the shelter system, found independent living. And now unfortunately because a lot of them were in the shelter, probably the first time they could actually call a place a home, that when they do find independent living they feel isolated and end up back on the streets. So the community support program has a large population, right now it’s about 60 youth that are registered in that program, and about 24 of them, roughly, are single parents. So that’s where another bulk, not just the 45 that stay at our shelter.

Mikayla Stechnicki: Horizons for Youth was developed by the Housing for Youth in the City of York Committee in 1989, and became a charitable organization as of 1990. In 1990, building funds were provided by the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and the shelter opened in December of 1994. “Horizons for Youth” was named a member of the Ontario Association of Youth Hostels and Youth Shelter Interagency, as well as named a member of the United Way of Greater Toronto in 1997 (Our History – Horizons For Youth). Could you state the vision and mission of Horizons for Youth, and expand on both if possible?

Bob Hall: The vision is to help the youth find a place that they can call a home. Basically a vision to give support homeless youth at all times. Our mission is to guide youth from the street and to become independent living and to become positive members of the community.

Mikayla Stechnicki: The following story will be read by Matthew Stechnicki and it is one from the Horizons for Youth newsletters. It is the story of how one of the youth arrived at Horizons for Youth, and how they at the shelter helped him “leave the streets behind” (Vision & Mission - Horizons For Youth).

Matthew Stechnicki: I came to Canada as a refugee from war torn Afghanistan. After my father was murdered and my life was seriously threatened I fled my country and arrived in Toronto in 2015.

From the refugee centre I came straight to Horizons for Youth shelter. I learned English during my stay here; and everyone helped to guide me. The case managers sent me to Red Cross, Ontario Works and other services. My life began to change for the better. Everyone was really welcoming at Horizons for Youth and made me feel safe. I felt a sense of belonging from the staff and other resident who welcomed my opinions and thoughts. I learned how to live in Toronto quite quickly.

The housing worked helped me look for a place to live in and as a result, they found a room for rent that I really liked. I signed up for the community support program and they helped me with food, housing and other essentials like a bed and furniture. The community support worked referred me to access employment for job training. She is also helping me with changing my immigration lawyer and many other things. I made a lot of close friends at Horizons. I learned the culture, met a lot of different people but with one love and unity. 

I felt a close connection with all different kinds of people. Horizons for Youth is a great shelter in terms of their policies and procedures which helped me to understand Canadian culture and keep a disciplined approach. 

The staff at Horizons is a prime example of excellent well-disciplined staff that all deserve congratulations for the hard work that they do. Horizons for Youth is my new family as I do not have anyone over here. I can never forget Horizons for all that they have done and are still doing for me.

Horizons for Youth has taught me valuable life skills that enable me to live outside their community, interact with people here in Canada and find work so I can survive independently.

I want to say thanks to everyone, the staff and residents. I have recently finished my Auto Mechanic course through Access Employment and I am currently working in a mechanic shop. I like my job very much. I visit Horizons for Youth regularly through the community support program. 

In conclusion, I would just like to say thank you for the opportunity to allow me to grow and become the man I am today; before I came here I was unaware of how people in general could be so caring. After my experiences at Horizons I finally learned what it means to be a human being -- in other words caring, loyal, willing, empathetic and overall a nice person. Horizons for Youth is my family and I want to make you proud by doing and being the best person I can be.

Mikayla Stechnicki: Despite the efforts of organizations like Horizons for Youth, the public lacks knowledge about this issue. Do you believe that enough people are informed about street youth in Canada? If not, what do you think the best method would be to inform more people about the risks and issues the youth face out on the streets?

Bob Hall: That’s a very good question and unfortunately the answer is no there’s not a lot of people who know about it, and what people think they know they don’t. There is a perception out there, like for example in the city of Toronto there is probably 2000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are on the street, and a lot of people, unfortunately the perception is that they are lazy.

But it is studies like Raise the Roof decided two major reasons why people leave home, is neglect and abuse. And so people who think they know about what is going on with homeless youth, that they are just lazy and don’t want to get a job, don’t understand the whole issue. So unfortunately not only the issue, but also the wrong term, not just the short term but impact to our whole society with regards to homeless youth not getting the support they need.

So I think the best way to do it, I personally have done this and other people in our shelter have done this, and other shelters have done as well, is reach out to community groups, speaking at churches and speaking to community groups and community centres about what Horizons for Youth or what other shelters do, and the issue of homeless youth. And also, we are really, really seeing that a lot of support is coming from corporations who are helping with that. For example, Home Depot, their foundation focus is on right now for the next few years, is to help out with the issue of homeless youth and to help shelters do the work that they do so there will be less homeless youth and more youth finding independent living. And so it’s working with them and doing a lot of the seminars and workshops with other people in the public that is really, really important.

But I think at the foremost to really reach out, whether through social or otherwise what shelters are doing, what the impact they are making in youths lives and why they are so needed.

Mikayla Stechnicki: As Bob mentioned “Raising the Roof Report – Putting an End to Child & Family Homelessness in Canada” completed in 2016, is bringing light to the challenges and barriers faced by the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population; children and families (Our Research – Raising the Roof). The reports aim is to not only address the gap in knowledge concerning this unique demographic, but to pave the way for long-term solutions (Our Research – Raising the Roof).

Garcia T. Gulliver states in the report that: Solving homelessness requires extensive investment and ongoing cooperation between the various levels of government. She recognizes that some of these recommendations will take a great deal of time to fully implement but feels that there are some areas where small steps can be taken towards a greater goal. She goes on to provide recommendations for ALL levels of the government such as, “support[ing] and fund[ing] national coordinated response and action on children’s mental health” (Gulliver-Garcia, T. 2016), “develop[ing] and fund[ing] a national housing and homelessness strategy” (Gulliver-Garcia, T. 2016).

In fact, “the provincial government […] [pledged] to end homelessness by 2025 […]” (Monsebraate, Laurie). Some of the key achievements listed in the plan to end homelessness include:

  • “Investing $42 million in the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI), bringing funding to almost $294 million annually […]”(Ending Homelessness in Ontario).
  • “Committing over $400 million in funding over five years through the Canada-Ontario Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) Agreement […]”(Ending Homelessness in Ontario).
  • “Continuing to support off-reserve Aboriginal Housing through a dedicated component of the Investment in Affordable Housing for Ontario Program […]”(Ending Homelessness in Ontario).
  • “Committing $16 million over three years to create approximately 1,000 supportive housing spaces for people with mental health and addiction issues, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness” (Ending Homelessness in Ontario).
  • “Investing approximately $1.6 million from the Local Poverty Reduction Fund to support eight homelessness-related projects” (Ending Homelessness in Ontario).

Alongside help from organizations and the government, there have been studies conducted on youth homelessness. For example, in the article “Brief report: Youth pathways out of homelessness – Preliminary findings”, what was studied was the integration of homeless youth back into non-homeless communities. “Behavioural integration with community was not associated with psychological integration […] This finding suggests that spending time in the community does not necessarily translate into a sense of psychological belonging, or vice versa […] In line with the qualitative work of Karabanow (2008) and Kidd & Davidson (2007) it was found that a greater length of time on the streets was linked to more difficulty developing a sense of belonging in non-street communities […] Sense of hope, as well, was tied to both mental health and psychological integration within communities. [These] findings suggest that mental health, framed as satisfaction with life and positive individual and societal functioning, would seem to have the strongest and most pervasive linkages with community integration, be it behavioural or psychological” (Kidd, Sean A., Jeff Karabanow, Jean Hughes, and Tyler Frederick 1037).

Bob Hall: Horizons for Youth is celebrating its 22nd year and unfortunately the need is always there, so the more people who know about it, the more people who are able to support us and our work, the more benefit we can have on society as a whole. So, I think it’s really important.

Mikayla Stechnicki: For 22 years, Horizons for Youth has been impacting the lives of up to "1100 youth annually" (Our History – Horizons For Youth). With a more informed world, more organizations can begin to make impacts in the lives of homeless youth, much like Horizons for Youth.

Although there continues to be many people striving towards a solution for homeless youth in Canada, there are still not enough people in the public informed, and not enough people doing the work that needs to be done.

As Bob said, the important thing right now is to inform the, inform society of the issues and risk youth face while living on the streets so that there can be more support for organization like Horizons for Youth and the work that they do.

The number of homeless youth in Canada is rising significantly, and at a very high speed, and none of these youth know how to properly support themselves, as they lack the knowledge on what support is being offered to them. These youth could have a major impact in society, but without providing them with the necessities of life, they aren’t given these opportunities. It is organizations like Horizons for Youth that provide these necessities in life, and the skills to get them independently. In combining the efforts from organizations like Horizons for Youth, as well as more government funding, youth homelessness could very well come to an end. 

Works Cited

"Ending Homelessness in Ontario." Ontario.ca. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

Gulliver-Garcia, T. (2016). Putting an End to Child & Family Homelessness in Canada. Toronto: Raising the Roof. Retrieved from http://www.raisingtheroof.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/CF-Report-Final.pdf. 30 Oct. 2016.

Hall, Bob. Personal Interview. 16 Nov. 2016.

Kidd, Sean A., Jeff Karabanow, Jean Hughes, and Tyler Frederick. "Brief Report: Youth Pathways out of Homelessness – Preliminary Findings." Journal of Adolescence vol. 36, no. 6, 2013, pp. 1035-037. Scholars Portal Journals. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.

Monsebraate, Laurie. (2016, April 4) Poverty the Leading Cause of Youth Homelessness: Study." Toronto Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/04/04/poverty-the-leading-cause-of-youth-homelessness-study.html. 30 Oct. 2016.

"Our History - Horizons For Youth." Our History - Horizons For Youth. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.

"Our Research - Raising the Roof." Raising the Roof. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.

"Street Youth in Canada: Findings from Enhanced Surveillance of Canadian Street Youth, 1999-2003." Public Healthy Agency of Canada. N.p., Mar. 2006. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.

"Vision & Mission - Horizons For Youth." Vision & Mission - Horizons For Youth. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.

Additional Resources

Cheng, Tessa, Evan Wood, Cindy Feng, Steve Mathias, Julio Montaner, Thomas Kerr, and Kora Debeck. "Transitions into and out of Homelessness among Street-involved Youth in a Canadian Setting." Health & Place vol. 23, 2013, pp. 122-27. Scholars Portal Journals. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.

Frankish, C. James et al. “Homelessness and Health in Canada: Research Lessons and Priorities.” Canadian Journal of Public Health / Revue Canadienne De Sante'e Publique, vol. 96, 2005, pp. S23–S29. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.

Turnbull, Jeffrey, Wendy Muckle, and Christina Masters. "Homelessness and Health." Canadian Medical Association Journal vol. 177, no. 9, 2001, pp. 1065-066. Canadian Medical Association Journal. Web. 2 Nov. 2016. 



I would like to thank Bob Hall for the amazing answers he provided to my interview questions on behalf of Horizons for Youth, as well as providing me with the story from one of their newsletters! Thank you to The Epidemic Sound for an amazing piano track as well! And finally, thank you to Stephanie and Keith for all the amazing help and support you have provided throughout this intensive, but rewarding process!