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York's youth homelessness report covered by Canadian Press and QMI Agency

York's youth homelessness report covered by Canadian Press and QMI Agency

A York University report is calling for reform in the approach used to deal with youth homelessness, emphasizing the potential role that family members can still play in supporting youngsters in need, wrote The Canadian Press April 14 (via the

The report said it's estimated that roughly 65,000 young people are homeless or living in homeless shelters throughout the country at one time or another during a given year.

Stephen Gaetz, associate dean of research and professional development in York's Faculty of Education, used to work in the youth homelessness sector in the '90s. He said the approach in Canada has remained much the same since — namely, the focus on provision of emergency services.

“The longer I’m involved in this issue, the more upset I am that we allow 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds to languish in emergency shelters rather than to provide them with better solutions and better options,” he said. He co-authored the report with Daphne Winland, an associate professor in York’s department of anthropology, and researcher Tara Patton.

Gaetz noted that other countries, such as Australia and the U.K., have evolved approaches focusing on prevention and moving individuals out of homelessness and into housing. He said while emergency services are needed, the real emphasis should be on preventing young people from becoming and remaining homeless.

He said research in Canada is pretty consistent in showing that between 60 and 70 per cent of young people come from households where they’ve experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Yet even in situations where they’re leaving households where they may have been abused, it doesn’t mean their relationship with all family members has soured, he noted.

Even though family conflict is probably at the core of the majority of youth homelessness, it doesn’t mean that those relationships are irreconcilable, Gaetz said. In certain cases, there may not be a history of abuse but perhaps family conflict which can often be addressed. That means more intensive support is needed for both the youngster and their family.

“If there’s conflict parents may not know what to do. There may be anger management issues that need working on; there may be mediation. There may also just need to be a cooling-out period.”

The report profiles the Family Reconnect program run by Eva’s Initiatives, which operates three shelters in the Toronto area and works with homeless and at-risk youth aged 16-24 to get them off the streets permanently.

The program provides youngsters with support through various channels, including counselling, to help get them on track to potentially return home or move into the community, ideally with family support.

Between 2005 and 2010, the program helped 376 clients. Among them, 62 per cent of youth became more actively involved with family members and 14.5 per cent reconciled with a family member after repairing a damaged relationship.

Parents are also able to benefit from the program.

Gaetz said it will require a unified approach from all levels of government to develop strategic responses to homelessness.

At the provincial level where funding is controlled for most service delivery, they recommend establishing an inter-ministerial working group that spans all sectors. They’re also asking municipal governments to develop strategic plans to address youth homelessness.

“I really believe that the knowledge is there about how to do this and, in many cases, the commitment is there to do things differently.”

The QMI Agency also covered the report April 13.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.