The global pandemic of COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on the inequities and inadequacies of Canada’s social and economic safety net to protect and support young people at-risk of or experiencing homelessness. The issue of youth homelessness and housing instability, which was largely out of public view, has now been thrown into sharp focus as communities grapple with how to ensure that everyone can be protected from the virus and access even the most basic of needs.

At the beginning of April 2020, A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness set out to survey the youth-serving sector across Canada to hear from those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis about some of the challenges and emerging successes in their communities.

Youth sector survey results

To those that participated in our first survey – THANK YOU! We deeply appreciate and value you taking the time to lend your voice to this national conversation. We received enthusiastic responses from 67 individuals from 60 different youth-serving organizations with representation from each province, and communities small and large. They outlined an array of challenges facing:

  • The sector, such as access to flexible funding and maintaining staffing/volunteers to remain operational;
  • The workers, such as lack of access to PPE and having safety plans in place to interact with youth, and;
  • Young people, such as increased social isolation and mental health challenges, accessing basic needs and harm reduction supplies, and having adequate space to self-isolate and social distance.

Maintaining physical distance from young people makes outreach and case management much more difficult. Youth have varying access to technology and the internet, which impacts staff’s ability to stay connected with youth and help them access income and other supports, find housing, and avoid eviction. This is made all-the-more complicated by community programs and services that youth would typically access reducing operating hours or being shut down. Some organizations echoed the ongoing challenges of the lack of a dedicated response to youth homelessness in their communities.

Communities also shared some of the positive developments brought on by the crisis, such as increased cross-organizational and cross-sectoral collaboration and communication. Staff are finding new ways to stay connected to young people with technology and to form more meaningful connections with youth in residential programs. In some communities, civil society and community members have also stepped up to help meet the needs of youth through donations of money and food. These are opportunities that have emerged that we may be able to build on when Canada transitions into the recovery phase.

Read the full Summary Report or get the highlights in our Executive Summary.

Deepening our understanding to drive youth-specific action

Over the coming days and weeks, A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness will continue to work with our partners across different national organizations, including the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, orders of government, and the youth-serving sector to better understand the needs and promising approaches being taken to support young people through the crisis.

In our follow-up survey we are looking to dig deeper and asking youth-serving organizations to shed light on more specifics of the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, particularly as it relates to Indigenous, 2SLGBTQIA+, racialized, rural/remote, and newcomer youth.

Four actions you can take right now:

  1. Read and share the full Summary Report and Executive Summary
  2. Fill out our follow-up youth sector survey and share it with your networks! The more we understand about the impacts of the crisis, the better we are able to advocate for support and change.
  3. Sign up for our weekly Homeless Hub newsletter, which will feature important resources, information and real time strategies tailored to youth-serving organizations.
  4. Sign up for weekly “real time practice” calls designed for frontline staff to troubleshoot ideas, discuss how you are coping, share information, and learn from one another.

Where do we go from here?

Moving forward, we will also be looking to establish a shared understanding of where to go from here. Can we and should we go back to ‘business-as-usual’ in light of what we now know? How can we demand better for young people? What have we learned from this crisis that can inform housing and homelessness policy in the future? These are some of the questions that we aim to unpack as we find a path forward out of this current crisis and into recovery. How our governments and community members respond during this time of crisis and how we utilize this opportunity for change is up to all of us.