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Ending Homeless Youth at the core of Child Abuse Prevention

Youths without a home. Growing up way too soon, and no choice to hit the streets in order to survive.

A youth without a roof, without a home is the ultimate and highest form of child abuse, and our local communities are not doing enough to end this crisis. October is Child Abuse Prevention Month for us to reflect on what is happening in our homes, our schools and on the streets to children across Canada. The crisis of youth homeless is at the core of child abuse prevention.

Many homeless youths are there due to abuse, neglect and lack of parental support. By not working towards the end of homelessness, we as a society are part of the problem. We are continuing the abuse of these children. Most of the youth on the streets, couch surfing and in shelters face adult reality before they are ready. The long term consequences are grim, with increased risk of exploitation, victimization, physical and sexual abuse. They are more likely to have contact with the police, and the criminal justice system. Mental health issues are staggering for homeless youth, with 50% dealing with stress, depression, anxiety disorders and suicide attempts.

A steady home can save lives. Youth also have the highest mortality rate among the homeless. Not yet equipped with adult skills, the challenges faced on the street leave them victim to trauma, declining health, nutritional deficiencies and addiction. Recovery for these youth starts with safe and permanent housing. Studies show a consistent address gives homeless youth a higher chance for employment and life-saving social services. Youth homeless each have a personal story on how they became, or chose to, be homeless.

Working with children on the streets, we have witnessed and heard many sad stories and seen even sadder endings due to inattention of the communities to step up the support for our homeless. Over 60% homeless females are on the streets due to abuse in their family home.

Many homeless youths are there because they are “aged out”. Turning 18 is not a party, as it also comes with the removal of education, funding and housing supports. There are barriers to housing such as no credit rating, no prior address. With current record high unemployment, rising education costs, and harsh economic conditions it is no surprise that they suffer from economic inequality. Up to 40% of homeless youth identify themselves as part of the LBGTQ community yet our shelter system has not adapted to this, leaving them subject to discrimination and abuse. Sprott House recently opened up in Toronto as Canada’s first LBGTQ shelter which is a great step in the right direction, yet we have a long way to go Canada! Many youths in this community are homeless simply because they were rejected from their families due to their lifestyle.

A great majority of youth leave home due to abuse, violence or addiction in their families. Some leave simply because their parents cannot afford to feed or provide a roof for them due to their own economic situation. The reasons youth hit the streets are as many as there are kids on the streets.

It is my belief that adequate housing, food, education, health and a livable wage is a human rights issue, as documented in Youth Rights! Right Now! By not addressing the staggering crisis of homelessness, particularly in youth, we are part of the abuse. Without a supportive home to start their lives, they are at risk to continued poverty and homelessness throughout their lives. Ignoring it, not working towards its end will affect generations to come.

Think about it. Hard.

Michele D. CEO Work MY Mojo Corp.

Youth rights! Right now! just released guide by guide was developed by Canada Without Poverty, in partnership with A Way Home Canada, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and FEANTSA (the European Federation of National Organizations working with the Homeless) points out the distinction with homeless youth: The causes and experiences that make youth homeless unique. Read it here - http://www.cwpcsp.ca/action/youthrightsrightsnow/