When our teams at A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness released a follow-up survey to dig deeper into what we heard from the youth-serving sector in our first Summary Report, we were floored by the rich and detailed responses. The sector continues to show up with generosity and openness that inspires and challenges us to keep pushing for fundamental change to the response to youth homelessness. It’s that generosity that has resulted in our latest report: Responding to Youth Homelessness during COVID-19 and Beyond: Perspectives from the Youth-Serving Sector in Canada.

Results of the Follow-Up Survey

With over 60 frontline and management staff participants from 48 organizations in 32 communities across 7 provinces/territories, the report explores the ongoing and nuanced challenges COVID-19 poses for both the sector and young people. In a time of major disruption and disconnection, organizations have rapidly adapted their services to fill the widening gaps created by the initial shutdown, public health recommendations, and gradual reopening.

Some of the results raise concerns for the safety and well-being of young people. Of the frontline workers that responded to the survey:

  • 64% noticed increases in youth staying in unsafe living arrangements
  • 61% noticed increases in substance use
  • 54% noticed increases in youth experiencing interpersonal conflict at home
  • 43% noticed increases in youth experiencing domestic violence

Frontline workers themselves are struggling with burnout and compassion fatigue, trying to navigate increased stress and changes at work with family responsibilities and concerns for their personal health and safety.

We hear from communities that have used technology to offer a lifeline to youth stuck at home and created new community partnerships to ensure basic needs do not go unmet. We also hear about the inequities that predate COVID-19, but have become amplified, particularly for marginalized and oppressed groups, including 2SLGBTQIA+ and newcomer youth. The renewed and urgent call for racial justice in Canada and the United States clearly delineates the need for the co-creation of equitable emergency responses and pathways to recovery.

The report concludes with four Action Areas requiring continued focus and attention:

  1. Impact & Equity Review
  2. Systems & Policy Change
  3. Youth-Centred Interventions
  4. Support for the Sector

We’re Better Together

The pandemic is far from over, but we are unshaken in our resolve to centre the voices of young people, support the sector in its essential work, and continue to advocate for changes to policy, planning and practice that improve the lives and outcomes for young people and their families. Our ongoing weekly COVID-19 Community of Practice calls have had steady participation and there is interest in carrying these into the fall. In July, A Way Home Canada also put forward a brief to the House of Commons’ Standing Comittee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, indicating ways that the federal government can support the shift to preventing and sustaining exits from youth homelessness.

We encourage you to read the Full Report (or its Executive Summary) and share it widely! There is a significant opportunity for us to collectively build on what we have learned from community partners’ responsiveness during COVID-19. There is no other option than to use this period of crisis to rally together and drive actions that will achieve better outcomes with and for youth and their families.

Sign up for the Homelessness Learning Hub and post your thoughts, reflections and questions in our online forum. We’d love to hear what you think about the report and areas for action!