The voices of young people with lived experience must be at the centre of our efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada. In 2014, the Lived Experience Advisory Council developed seven principles for engaging and including people with lived experience making the statement “Nothing about us without us”. This statement speaks to the rights of people to have their experiences, perspectives, and ideas inform both discussion and action on issues that affect them. Taking a rights-based approach to advocacy and change-making on issues related to youth homelessness means that we must acknowledge the inherent value of the voices of youth with lived experience. 

At A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, we take the obligation to create space and platforms for lived experience voices seriously, and actively seek out ways to infuse and inform our work with the insights of young people themselves. The Without A Home: National Youth Homelessness Survey in 2015 gave important insight and voice to the complex and varying causes and consequences of becoming unstably housed or homeless. Over 1,000 youth participated, shedding light on the impact their experience has had on many aspects of their lives, such as education, employment, and mental and physical wellbeing. 

In January 2019, a second iteration of the Without A Home Survey is being launched with the support of Home Depot Canada Foundation, aiming to have at least 2,000 youth participants. This time around, we looking to create opportunities to have the voices of young people be heard not only by responding to survey questions about their experiences, but at each stage of the survey development process, including design, implementation, and data analysis. 

Youth with organizations, such as Dans la Rue, were consulted on a number of discussion topics to help identify the questions that they feel are important to ask young people, what they would like decision-makers and people in power to know about their experiences, and what they hope the survey will communicate to various audiences. As the survey is finalized, it will undergo a second round of youth consultations, in which young people help us to refine the survey content and phrasing. 

What We Heard from Youth

Youth participating in the consultation on the survey were very much interested in participating, because it would allow them to lend their voices to something meaningful that can be directed toward people in power. The participants identified a number of ways that communities could increase engagement and local participation in the survey: 

  • Provide food – Communities could host a BBQ, meal, or other event with food where the survey is highlighted as an option. 
  • Honoraria – Compensating youth for their participation and advertising that their contribution is valued. 
  • Invitation and connection –Local workers can invite the youth that they are connected with and have a trusting relationship with. 
  • Rural and remote outreach –Make use of safe, central local community groups, such as churches or community drop-ins, where youth are more connected.
  • Peer outreach – Engage youth to connect with their peers about the survey. Explore having peer outreach workers promote and be present during survey collection. 
  • Provide service information –Use the opportunity to share about the services, programs, and supports that are available to young people locally. 
  • Paid positions for youth –Offer paid daywork positions to young people that want to support the roll-out of the survey.
  • Plan to share back the results –Inform youth the responses will be anonymous and compiled and put into a national report, and make a plan to share the results with them when published. 

Further Recommendations

We all have a role to play in creating spaces and platforms for youth voice and leadership. There are a number of steps that can be taken when developing a youth engagement strategy:    

Youth should benefit from participating in planning the count. Ask the youth advisors what types of skills, knowledge and experiences they would like to gain from helping to implement the survey. Identify activities and roles that could build their resume, and look for tangible ways to support their career goals. For example, you could offer to provide youth with letters of recommendation/recognition, volunteer hours, a title they can put on a resume, or to be listed as a reference for a job.

Youth should be well supported. Partner with one or more youth-serving agencies to ensure youth are receiving support from trained staff while they are contributing their expertise to the survey. This includes having mental health supports to help youth debrief or work through thoughts, memories, and/or emotions that could be triggered while answering the survey or engaging with the results. Elders or other trusted community members can also be present to offer kind and compassionate support to the young people that participate. 

Youth should be compensated adequately. Organizations will be reimbursed for youth honoraria for participating in the actual survey. Consideration should be given to how your organization will compensate youth that are engaged in planning, implementation, and knowledge mobilization. In some organizations, youth leadership groups take on projects on a volunteer basis, while other youth advisors are financially compensated. Determine the time and resource demands that would be required of the youth involved in planning and implementing the survey, and compensate youth fairly for their contributions. Food and financial support for travel to and from meetings, consultations, or during survey administration should be provided at a minimum. 

Youth should be recognized for their contributions.Consult with youth to determine how they would like to be recognized. Consider acknowledging the youth participants in a statement about the results of the survey. However, if youth would like to remain anonymous, respect their privacy.

Youth should work closely with your agency’s survey coordinator. The survey coordinator is ultimately responsible for the safety of volunteers, the quality of data collected, and the outcome of the survey Youth can play a key role in planning and implementation, but the survey coordinator should remain actively involved in all aspects of the survey, even youth-focused elements like magnet events.

The following are some ways that communities and organizations/agencies participating in the National Youth Homelessness Survey can amplify the voices of young people and empower them to bring about change on issues that affect them and their peers. 

Consultations (Approx. 1 month Prior to Survey Launch)

Consulting with young people in your community early on will not give young people a voice and sense of buy-in for the survey itself, but will strengthen your approach to the survey implementation. Young people can shed light on some key questions, such as:

  • Where do you and your peers tend to go or feel comfortable in the community?
  • What services to do youth access and when?
  • If you were to design a magnet event to bring young people out to fill out the survey, what would that event look like? 
  • What else do you think would encourage youth to participate in the survey? 
  • What would be the best ways to do outreach to youth that might not be connect to services and our organization?
  • What might make you not want to participate? How can we help address and avoid those issues? 
  • What should be included in volunteer training? 
  • Would you want to participate further to plan and implement the survey? In what ways would you like to participate?

Planning (Leading up to Survey Launch)

Young people can be offered leadership roles in aspects of the survey planning with the support of the host organization. Some roles you might offer to youth include:

  • Planning a youth magnet event ( click here for more on magnet events and data collection methods );
  • Securing donations (food, funding, services, etc.) from local businesses for a magnet event or in the space where the survey will be administered;
  • Event/survey promotion to peers (social media campaigns, etc.);
  • Graphic design for posters and promotional materials;
  • Talking to local media about the survey (with staff support);
  • Recruiting volunteers for the survey implementation

Implementation (Week of Survey Launch)

The week of the survey, young people can be involved in leadership/volunteer roles such as:

  • Training volunteers; 
  • Spreading the word about the survey;
  • Responding to media requests (with staff support);
  • Surveying peers in various service locations and unsheltered locations;
  • Assisting the survey coordinator within the agency/community; 
  • Coordinating a youth magnet event.             

Knowledge Mobilization (Post-Survey)

When the final report is released, involve young people in mobilizing the results and developing calls to action for community members and local, provincial/territorial, and/or federal governments by: 

  • Establishing an advisory board/council of youth with lived experience to advise on local needs and opportunities;
  • Writing a statement/briefing note to and/or meet with local council, MPP/MLA, or MPs;
  • Supporting youth to do a deputation at city/town council or committees;
  • Hosting a engagement event or Town Hall where youth can share what the results mean to them and your community;
  • Developing a youth homelessness strategy for your community;
  • Running a social media campaign to highlight the most striking or relevant facts  ;
  • Working with youth to develop an op-ed, blog post, or other form of written communication for the broader public.

This is not an exhaustive list of the ways young people can be involved in the national survey, and not every community will be able to do everything listed here. What is most important is that you work with youth-serving organizations and their youth clients to determine how they might be interested in contributing to the count.

For more information, or if you have any questions about youth engagement and the National Survey, please contact Amanda Buchnea at