Roughly a quarter of homeless youth who manage to get off the streets end up returning to homelessness within a year, according to research by the University of Toronto and Dalhousie University.
Researchers spent a year with 51 youth in Toronto and Halifax who had recently been homeless, using a mix of interviews and surveys to find out how they got off the streets and what challenges they faced.
Sean Kidd, a co-author of the report and a clinical psychologist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said 24 per cent of those involved in the study lost stable housing and cycled back into homelessness over the course of the year.
“I think what it has to do with is a number of points of adversity. It takes a tremendous amount of resilience and strength and support to exit the streets in the first place, but you’ve got many, many years of homelessness, the adversity therein, the challenges that led to becoming homeless,” he said in an interview on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.
“These are often young people that have never in any way managed a home and all that goes into that, so there’s a lot of skills to learn … and what we found over the course of the year is for most they experienced declining hope — they weren’t engaging in communities that they had access to and mental health was faltering.”
'The job is not yet done'
The youth tracked in the study had no safety nets, Kidd wrote in a blog on the CAMH website, meaning something simple like a late paycheque or fight with a roommate led them right back into homelessness.
“Once they’re off the streets there’s a big point of hope about exiting the streets, of making a new start, but many once they’ve landed face all of the challenges that many young people face … along with the trauma of being homeless,” Kidd told CBC News.
“For many homeless youth, they experience trauma before coming to the streets and once they find themselves in an apartment somewhere in North York or Scarborough, and once the day to day struggle to survive has ended, they’re then faced with all of these mental health challenges that can often come cropping up.”
Kidd said most resources are geared towards kids in crisis, with little help to offer once they’re off the streets.
“And at that point, it’s like their work is done and they move on to the next crisis, the next young person who needs to be housed,” Kidd said.
“But where there’s a major gap is of course once the young person is housed — then more supports are needed, the job is not yet done.”
Kidd, along with the other researchers involved in the report, are looking to build resources to help formerly homeless youth once they’re off the streets, including mental health supports.