Solving Youth Homelessness Requires Integrated, Collaborative Approach

Rocco Gizzarelli, Executive Director of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton

Rocco Gizzarelli, Executive Director of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton, writes on why a multi-agency approach is vital to addressing youth homelessness

In an average year, as many as 50,000 young people in Canada find themselves without stable housing. In Hamilton, there were at least 750 street-involved and homeless youth over the past year. These young people are at high risk of repeated homelessness, unemployment, violence, and sexual assault. They need support, compassion, and stable housing.

In Hamilton, there are a number of agencies working together to reduce youth homelessness and support youth without stable housing. One such collaboration is the Youth Housing Support Project (YHSP), which is a project of the Street Youth Planning Collaborative, led by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton in partnership with the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, Good Shepherd Youth Services, Living Rock Ministries, and Wesley Urban Ministries — Wesley Youth Services. This project is made possible with funding from the Government of Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy, a Program delivered by Employment and Social Development Canada and administered locally by the City of Hamilton.

The Catholic Children’s Aid Society is playing a lead role in the YHSP because we know these young people well. A recently-released report by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness called Child Welfare and Youth Homelessness in Canada: A Proposal for Action, found that 58 per cent of homeless youth have histories of child welfare involvement. That number in Hamilton is 52 per cent. Sadly, these numbers are not surprising, given how many of the children we serve experience childhood and/or adolescent trauma, abuse, and neglect — key contributing factors to homelessness.

The YHSP provides a range of housing supports to youth aged 16 to 25. Since the project began in April 2015, over 630 youth have obtained and maintained safe and stable housing. But more still needs to be done.

We support the Child Welfare and Youth Homelessness in Canada report’s recommendations to the federal and provincial governments and to child protection services like ours. A key finding is the role that transitioning out of care plays in subsequent homelessness of youth. There is a need for increased supports for youth during and after those transitions. In Ontario, the government has recently mandated an increase in the age of protection from 16 to 18, which will enable us to protect more youth on the streets. And we continue to provide support to crown wards up to the age of 21 through the Continued Care and Support for Youth program.

We are already acting on most of the report’s recommendations, and will take others under serious consideration. We are actively engaged in the development of a robust anti-oppressive practice to ensure we provide the best care for Indigenous, racialized and LGBTQ2S+ children and youth. These populations are overrepresented in the child welfare system and experience homelessness at a higher rate than the average population.

Some of the most impressive contributions to child welfare are being made by the individuals, couples and family members who welcome children into their homes as foster or adoptive parents. They are making a real difference in the lives of children every day, and we encourage more people to step forward and help children in need.

Solving the problem of youth homelessness will require increased action on the part of government, communities, and all social services that impact children and youth. We must adopt a more integrated approach to ensuring youth welfare. Just as there isn’t one single cause of youth homelessness, there isn’t one single organization or agency who can solve it alone. We are grateful to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness for shining a light on this significant issue and pointing the way to better outcomes for young people in Canada.