Hidden in our midst: Homeless newcomer youth in Toronto – Uncovering the supports to prevent and reduce homelessness

Research Report Round-up

In brief

Young people under 24 years of age are the fastest growing segment of Canada’s homeless population and make up about a third of the country’s homeless. In Toronto, almost a quarter of homeless youth were born outside Canada. But there is a lack of research that specifically explores the cross-section of youth homelessness and newcomer status.

In this Research Report Round-up, we look at the needs of newcomer youth in Canada within the context of homelessness prevention and reduction, using the City of Toronto as a case study. This report is based on focus groups and interviews with homeless newcomer youth, and a service provider survey.  Research Report Round-ups are brief summaries of research reports, presented in a user-friendly format.

Title and link to report: Hidden in Our Midst: Homeless Newcomer Youth in Toronto – Uncovering the Supports to Prevent and Reduce Homelessness

Authors: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Children’s Aid Society of Toronto

Year: 2014

Location: Toronto

Population addressed: Homeless newcomer youth

Type of study: Multi-method, qualitative and quantitative approach to data collection and analysis, including the use of participatory action research, focus groups and surveys. 

Keywords: Youth; newcomer; immigrants; refugees; family; housing; education; mental health; supports; employment 

Contact person/source: Name: Dr. Kwame McKenzie, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Kwame [dot] McKenzie [at] camh [dot] ca

Language: English

What this report is about

Young people under 24 years of age are the fastest growing segment of Canada’s homeless population and make up about a third of the country’s homeless. In Toronto, almost a quarter of homeless youth were born outside Canada. But there is a lack of research that specifically explores the cross-section of youth homelessness and newcomer status.

This report looks at the needs of newcomer youth in Canada within the context of homelessness prevention and reduction, using the City of Toronto as a case study. It is based on focus groups and interviews with homeless newcomer youth, and a service provider survey.

Some findings from the youth focus groups and interviews include:

  • More than one quarter of participants have held Refugee Claimant status.
  • The average age in which they first experienced homelessness was at 17.
  • One in four reported having experienced some form of trauma.
  • One in four said they are a parent.
  • Over 50% completed grade 12 or some postsecondary education.
  • Half indicated they would feel most comfortable seeking support from a youth agency.
  • A significant theme was feeling stigmatized by service providers.
  • Nearly one third said their first experience of unsafe or unstable housing was in a shelter.
  • The most frequently mentioned barrier to finding housing the experience of feeling discriminated against by current or potential landlords and housing service workers.
  • Young newcomer mothers, in particular, said they face challenges in accessing both shelter accommodations and market rental housing. 
  • Participants said that housing staff often pressured them to leave the shelter before they had found a safe place to live or the skills to maintain independent living. 
  • Many said they feel at risk of discrimination from potential and current employers based on their newcomer status, English language competency, lacking legal status in Canada, limited professional employment history in Canada, as well as unrecognized education or professional credentials achieved abroad.
  • They saw agency staff as a central resource in accessing appropriate housing, an ally in advocating for their needs, and to help them communicate with landlords.
  • They also said they welcome agency staff help with engaging employers and landlords, providing information on unique considerations for newcomer youth tenants and employees, such as accommodations for employment training, employment attendance flexibility, and supportive housing.
  • Other needs identified include: supports to transfer academic credentials obtained from their country of origin, supports to obtain an Ontario High School Equivalency Certificate, and English as a Second Language support services.
  • Participants in the newcomer homeless newcomer youth made the following suggestions for improving services:
  • Access to education services that would support them on a tangible career path or assist them in developing practical employment skills.
  • Programs directed towards preventing and reducing school drop-out rates, especially at the intermediate or junior high school level.
  • Locating more programs and services in the neighbourhoods of communities that they are intended to serve. 
  • Target resources to different cultures through avenues such as faith groups, well-respected and influential cultural and religious community leaders, community centres, neighbourhood social activities, and cultural events. 
  • Results from the survey of agencies serving homeless newcomer youth include:
  • Many provide services such as help locating housing (86%), accompanying youth to housing appointments (69%), following up with landlords (59%). 
  • They deliver services to support youth in obtaining a high school diploma (68%), high school equivalency certificate (57%), help in applying for college or university (75%), and English as a Second Language support (64%).
  • Agencies reported providing generic services on resumé writing (82%) and interview preparation (64%), yet there were gaps in aiming services to newcomer youth.
  • Funding considerations included: providing permanent housing and rent subsidies to newcomers, basic needs allowances at shelters for youth who do not qualify for Ontario Works, and eliminating or reducing fees for Permanent Resident status applications.
  • Service providers said the education system is an ideal site for developing social networks and for introducing and promoting system services to newcomers.
  • Crucial steps to prevent homelessness include regular case management check-ins, as well as financial and legal support on arrival and during the first few years in Canada. 
  • Newcomer youth, especially those who are in Canada by themselves, need access to individualized guidance, support and mentorship, throughout their settlement process and for several years after their arrival.
  • Service providers called for more year-round, drop-in programs, anonymous telephone helplines, and multi-service, “one-stop shops,” as well as peer-led information sessions and workshops.
  • Many viewed the integration and expansion of emergency shelters with other supports as vital to reducing newcomer youth homelessness.
  • A common theme was the promotion of resource and information sharing between agencies, evaluation of existing programs and partnerships, and streamlining services across newcomer and youth-serving agencies to serve clients more efficiently and effectively

How can this report be used

Knowledge gained through this research can fill the gap in the literature on the issue of homelessness among newcomer youth. It can also inform future research as well as efforts to expand initiatives to improve services in cities with significant newcomer populations.