Youth homelessness in Canada

Age of Canada's Homeless Population


Gender Identity of Homeless Youth


There are between 35,000-40,000 young people that experience homelessness each year in Canada. On any given night there are between 6,000-7,000 individuals.


Youth experience of homelessness

A 2016 survey conducted by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness found that there are seven key ways in which homeless youth suffer, namely: ongoing housing instability, high levels of chronicity (chronic or episodic homelessness, respectively meaning homeless for over a year or multiple times), nutritional vulnerability, declining mental health, low school participation, unemployment and criminal victimization.

These experiences feed into one another by creating a cycle of homelessness for an individual that is very difficult to escape. Many individuals repeatedly enter and exit periods of homelessness, attending school and being employed, but the challenges homeless youth face can prevent them from achieving their goals in these areas.


differences between youth and adult homelessness

Experiencing homelessness at any age is extremely difficult. Homeless youth, however, face different challenges than adults. Homeless youth usually leave home when they are still dependents, giving them little experience in running their own household.

Additionally, people under the age of 25 are continually undergoing significant developmental changes (physical, cognitive, emotional and social). Experiences that individuals have at this age can be formative and have an impact on their future decision-making, social relationships, inclusion and educational/employment opportunities. 

Homeless youth often lack family and financial support, and do not have adequate knowledge or experience to access supportive resources in their community. Life on the streets can exacerbate these problems, as youth attempt to find work and housing, possibly for the first time. 

Youth at Horizons

Average age: 19

Average Level of completed education: Grade 10

Average length of stay: 3 months

Causes of Youth Homelessness


Individual/relational factors

Family Conflict

72% of youth said conflict with their parents/ caregivers was a major cause of their eventual homelessness

Mental health

40% of youth reported experiencing feelings of depression daily, and 3/4 experienced these feelings several times per week

Every individual's path to homelessness is unique and complex. Individual factors may include:

Family Conflict: 92% of homeless youth in one survey said that conflict with their parents/caregivers was a factor that contributed to their eventual homelessness, while 72% reported it was a major cause.

Mental Health/Addictions Challenges: These challenges could be experienced by the youth or their parents or caregivers. Many individuals have experienced such challenges prior to becoming homeless, with 14.8% of youth in one survey having attempted suicide prior to becoming homeless. The trials of homelessness only exacerbate such issues, with 8% of respondents having attempted suicide after becoming homeless, 71.7 % reporting difficulties sleeping and almost 75% experiencing feelings of depression several times each week.

Abuse: Almost 60% of homeless youth surveyed reported either physical, emotional or sexual abuse as being a factor that contributed to their eventual homelessness.


Structural Factors 

Average Rent in Toronto ($CAD)

Data from the City of Toronto, 2019

Rental Vacancy rate (%)

Data from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation

The structure of some of our social and economic systems play a large part in contributing to youth homelessness as well. 

Lack of affordable housing, particularly in the City of Toronto, leaves homeless youth facing the challenges of a low vacancy rate and little low-cost housing. Moreover, homeless youth may find themselves subject to discrimination based on age or their reliance on income assistance. 

Lack of employment opportunities, particularly for youth with low levels of education, is a structural factor contributing to youth homelessness as well. Opportunities available are generally only part time, seasonal, low wage and without benefits. 


Other factors

The above list of factors is by no means extensive. Being a member of a marginalized group can significantly increase one's likelihood of experiencing homelessness as well. These groups include (but are not limited to):

  • LGBTQ2S individuals

  • Indigenous/First Nations individuals

  • Members of racialized communities

  • Refugees/newcomers to Canada

  • Individuals living in poverty

  • Youth that have aged out of Child Protective Services


A. Noble, J.Donaldson, S. Gaetz, S. Mirza, I. Coplan, D. Fleischer (2014): Finding Home: Youth Homelessness in York Region. Toronto: The Homeless Hub Press.

Stephen Gaetz, Bill O’Grady, Sean Kidd & Kaitlin Schwan. (2016). Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.