Gateway Gazette

But Why Did They Leave?

York University; Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub

This week’s infographic, published by Incarnation House, takes a look at the reasons why homeless teens leave home. Incarnation House is a center located in Dallas, Texas that is dedicated to serving the needs of transitional high school students. Their programs, provided in partnership with local community organizations, provide students with programs designed to help them develop life skills, provide emotional support and physical resources. Figures used in the infographic are drawn from numbers published by the National Coalition for the Homeless.

But why did they leave? infographic by Incarnation House

The infographic states that 63% of homeless teenagers in the US left home for the streets because of conflict they experienced at home, and 39% of survey respondents stated that they were forced to move out because their family did not want them at home. Another 24% stated that parental substance abuse was the primary cause for their departure, and 22% of survey respondents stated that they left home because they were at risk of emotional abuse. While the data for this infographic draws from the experiences of homeless teenagers in the US, research shows that there is a great deal of overlap between the reasons why Canadian and American teenagers enter homelessness.

Youth represent one of the most vulnerable subpopulations living in homelessness. Within the subpopulation of homeless youth, some groups are over-represented, including: LGBTQ2 and newcomer youth.

Looking at LGBTQ2 Youth

Many homeless LGBTQ2 youth begin living on the streets because of homo/transphobia in the home and school setting. The absence of adequate shelter services, designed with the needs of these youth in mind, means the unique needs and supports needed by these youth may be unavailable. In fact, there are documented instances of LGBTQ2 youth who sleep on the streets and avoid shelters because of the discrimination and even violence that occurs in the shelter system.

Looking at Newcomer Youth

A recent survey conducted with homeless youth in Toronto found that over a fifth of those surveyed had been born outside of Canada. Research has found that affodability issues are a major barrier for newcomers to find adequate housing. “Poverty, immigrant status and a shortage of affordable housing can stretch the resources of immigrant parents and potentially increase the risks of homelessness for im­migrant youth, particularly when tensions at home become unbearable.” (Springer, J. et al, 2013) Despite the high proportion of homeless youth who are also newcomers, data about the needs and experiences of these youth are hard to come by. The absence of research and data, however, does not mean the problem doesn’t exist and more studies are needed for this unique population.

Taking Action

A Way Home, a national coalition dedicated to preventing, reducing and ending youth homelessness in Canada was formed earlier this month. Coalition members brings together various organizations that have been active in the fight against homeless, including: Egale Canada and the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association. An aspect of the coalition’s focus that really excites me is the emphasis of ‘youth voice’ in their strategy. Engaging youth in the decision-making process about how services are structured and delivered will go a long way towards creating informed changes to how we provide supports to homeless youth.

Vineeth Sekharan is an undergraduate student in a psychology major at York University. His interest in the elimination of barriers to accessing vital services like housing and healthcare led him to work as a research student with The Homeless Hub. Vineeth’s other research interests include epidemiology, theories of power and persuasion, and literacy education. In his spare time, he likes to read a lot, write here and there, and then read some more.

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