About Youth Homelessness

Here at RaY, we are dedicated to learning and understanding the complexities of homelessness in all of its forms. A home is more than just a physical space, it’s a space that is associated with safety, comfort, and the feeling of freedom to be completely oneself. Homelessness is a social condition that each of us is responsible for ending, especially for young people.

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, has developed an extensive and widely recognized definition of homelessness. The introduction of this definition is as follows:

“The situation of an individual or family or community without stable, safe, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it. It is the result of systemic or societal barriers, a lack of affordable and appropriate housing, the individual/household’s financial, mental, cognitive, behavioural or physical challenges, and/or racism and discrimination. Most people do not choose to be homeless, and the experience is generally negative, unpleasant, stressful and distressing.”[1]

The full definition can be found here.

There is wide recognition across Canada and beyond that youth homelessness, however, is different from homelessness experienced by adults. This fact has also been known to RaY for many years, which is why services like ours specifically designed for young people are so important. Youth homelessness differs from adult homelessness in many ways including that the majority of adults experience homelessness for economic reasons, whereas the majority of youth experience homelessness due to family breakdown. The Canadian definition of youth homelessness “refers to the situation and experience of young people between the ages of 13 and 24 who are living independently of parents and/or caregivers, but do not have the means or ability to acquire a stable, safe or consistent residence.”[2]

According to Here and Now: The Winnipeg Plan to End Youth Homelessness, a research project led by RaY and guided by youth, the strong majority of youth experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg are Indigenous, representing 84% of the overall count. This is an extremely important element to understanding and preventing youth homelessness because homelessness experienced by Indigenous Peoples, who are highly over represented in the youth homeless population compared to the proportion of Indigenous people in Winnipeg, is also distinct from other experiences of homelessness. The definition of Indigenous homelessness created by the Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness states:

“Indigenous homelessness is a human condition that describes First Nations, Métis and Inuit individuals, families or communities lacking stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means or ability to acquire such housing. Unlike the common colonialist definition of homelessness, Indigenous homelessness is not defined as lacking a structure of habitation; rather, it is more fully described and understood through a composite lens of Indigenous worldviews. These include: individuals, families and communities isolated from their relationships to land, water, place, family, kin, each other, animals, cultures, languages and identities. Importantly, Indigenous people experiencing these kinds of homelessness cannot culturally, spiritually, emotionally or physically reconnect with their Indigeneity or lost relationships (Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness, 2012).”

Importantly, in 2017, author Jesse Thistle developed an even more comprehensive definition of Indigenous homelessness in Canada. His definition describes the 12 dimensions of Indigenous homelessness as well as many of the societal factors, policies and programs responsible for creating and perpetuating Indigenous homelessness. Furthermore, Thistle identifies that “Indigenous youth homelessness is one of the most challenging and prominent issues in homelessness”[3]. The full definition can be found here: COHIndigenousHomelessnessDefinition.pdf (homelesshub.ca). Part of our work at RaY is not only to work towards ending youth homelessness, but to incorporate a culturally informed lens into all the work we do, to honour the definition of Indigenous homelessness, and to honour the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada by advocating for the implementation of all 94 of the TRC’s Calls to Action.

On any given night here in Winnipeg, there are an estimated minimum of 455 youth experiencing homelessness[4]. The 2018 Winnipeg Street Census, and previous studies on youth homelessness in Winnipeg, also found that youth homelessness is an issue that disproportionately impacts Indigenous youth, 2SLGBTQ+ youth, and youth with CFS involvement. These are the youth we seek to help overcome the barriers they face so they can reach their goals and transition into healthy, stable and supported adulthood. While the layers and complexities of youth homelessness make the challenge of ending it extremely difficult, we are confident that if we all work together, with non-judgmental, comprehensive and trauma-informed services and supports, we can and will rise to that challenge, ending youth homelessness once and for all.

What causes youth homelessness?
  • Youth homelessness is different from adult homelessness in many ways, but most of all because its causes are different. The #1 reason that youth become homeless is breakdown of the family unit, family conflict, and/or violence.
  • Pathways into homelessness for young people include: structural factors like colonialism, discrimination, poverty, and housing affordability; systemic factors like Child and Family Services (CFS), Justice, Health, Mental Health and Addictions, Education, Employment and Income Assistance (EIA); and family and individual factors like abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic violence, parental substance use, rejection of gender and sexuality, and teen pregnancy.
  • These factors all contribute to young people’s experiences with homelessness.
How many youth are experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg?
  • On the night of April 17, 2018 there were 455 children and youth experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg. This number is from The Winnipeg Street Census, a point-in-time count survey where volunteers try to count how many individuals in Winnipeg were experiencing homelessness.
  • We assume that this number is lower than the actual number because of something called “hidden homelessness.” This is the type of homelessness that we don’t see on the streets. It’s when young people stay on someone’s couch (“couchsurfing”), stay with friends or relatives, or find other places to stay temporarily while experiencing homelessness.
  • To learn more about the Winnipeg Street Census, visit https://streetcensuswpg.ca/about/
How can we end youth homelessness in Winnipeg?
  • Youth homelessness is preventable and can be ended. We have a plan called Here and Now: The Winnipeg Plan to End Youth Homelessness which was developed by a network of community organizations and many youth with lived experience of homelessness. You can read the Plan here. (link to publications)
  • The four main priorities of the plan are: increasing access to 24/7 services for youth; preventing homelessness with school-based supports and by ensuring systems like justice, health, and CFS don’t exit or discharge youth into homelessness; increasing the supply of transitional housing programs for youth; and creating supports so youth can thrive, which includes EIA increasing income supports so that youth can stabilize.
  • This is a high level overview of the priorities. You can read in-depth plans and about the role of different communities in Here and Now: The Winnipeg Plan to End Youth Homelessness.

[1] Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. (2012.) Canadian Definition of Homelessness. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press. www.homelesshub.ca/homelessdefinition

[2] Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. (2016). Canadian Definition of Youth Homelessness. Homeless Hub: www.homelesshub.ca/youthhomelessdefinition

[3] Thistle, J. (2017.) Indigenous Definition of Homelessness in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[4] Brandon, J. Maes Nino, C., Retzlaff, B., Flett, J., Hepp, B., Shirtliffe, R., & Wiebe, A. (2018). The Winnipeg Street Census 2018: Final Report. Winnipeg: Social Planning Council of Winnipeg

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