The story that needs to be told

The story of Canadian youth homelessness needs to be told. David French, Director of Policy and Planning at A Way Home Canada, writes about how the Youth Homelessness Survey will inform policymaking and practice responses to youth homelessness.


We can’t expect policies and practices to change without the presence of good quality research and data that support the need for policy and practice shifts. At a most basic level, the existence of policy gaps leads to research being undertaken. It is clear that the relationship is of a long-term nature; it takes time to generate research as well as inform and be informed by policy processes and issues which in turn lead to new research being undertaken. Responding to on-the-ground realities is a priority for every government but they can’t do it alone. A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness carry an important level of responsibility to equip governments with the tools that can bolster policy decision making and inform better practice. 

This is why the 2nd Without a Home: National Youth Survey (the Survey) presents such an important opportunity. The reality of Canadian youth homelessness is the story that needs to be told. It is a story layered with complexities, obstacles, missed opportunities, but most of all, it is a story with many faces. With every survey question answered, we get closer to understanding the reality for these young people, which means we can get closer to national solutions to youth homelessness. The Survey has been developed by leading youth homelessness scholars, and in consultation with youth, policymakers, and practitioners. The Survey aims to provide a national picture of youth homelessness in Canada, which can be used to inform policymaking and practice responses to youth homelessness. The results of the study will guide efforts towards developing more effective plans, strategies, interventions, and policy to prevent and end youth homelessness. The Survey unpacks and seeks to understand key themes that service providers see across the country. 


  • Where did you stay last night?
  • What gender do you identify with?
  • Do you consider yourself to be Indigenous, Aboriginal, Indian (status Indian, non-status Indian), First Nations, Inuit, or Metis?
  • Did anyone try to help you when you became homeless the first time?


  • What happened that caused you to lose your housing most recently?
  • As a child, were you ever involved with child protection services (also known as children’s aid or the child welfare system)?
  • Are you in regular contact (more than once a month) with any family member?
  • At any point in the last 6 months, was there a time when you felt you needed health care and were not able to receive it?

The answers to these and many other questions will help us paint a picture of missed opportunities, failed intersections of policy, and insufficient supports. On January 14, 2019, over 125 organizations, across all 10 provinces and in one territory, will initiate the National Youth Survey process. With four weeks to complete surveys, organizations are able to pace their engagement with young people, organize magnet events (a strategy to increase the participation rates of young people, particularly if they are disconnected from services and supports in your community), and design opportunities for youth to be comfortable with the process, confident in their participation, and comforted knowing their realities are helping change the narrative around youth homelessness.

The Survey study is not a Point-in-Time Count. Unlike Point-in-Time Counts, the Survey does not attempt to count the number of young people that have experienced homelessness in each community or across Canada. Rather, this survey aims to reach at least 2,000 youth to provide comprehensive qualitative and quantitative data on their experiences of homelessness and housing precarity. The data collected through Without a Home survey is also more robust than many PiT counts. These 2,000+ youth participants will only be a portion of youth experiencing homelessness across Canada. The results of Without a Home, however, can be used to complement local PiT Count data by offering more insight to the pathways and outcomes for young people experiencing homelessness in communities, provinces, and territories.

Aligned with the Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessnessthe Survey results will further seek to transform the structural factors that affect outcomes and opportunities for young people and their families, the systems that can and should be more integrated to ensure youth are adequately supported, demonstrate how early intervention could have allowed youth to avoid homelessness, and identify where finding housing stability and avoiding  a loss of housing can ultimately shift trajectories for youth. Foreshadowing what will be learned from the results, this will only strengthen our work with communities, provinces, and territories around how they respond to the issue. 

Building on the 2016 Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey, we want to ensure we have a more complete national picture of youth homelessness. This research is made possible through financial support provided by the Home Depot Canada Foundation (HDCF). More than a funder, the HDCF has emerged as a national leader on youth homelessness in Canada. The HDCF not only invests in local communities and organizations across the country, but has also become a powerful leader in efforts to re-imagine our response to youth homelessness and foster prevention-focused solutions.

All community data matters! This research would not have been possible without the dedicated work of youth-serving agencies across the country, all of whom have proactively signed up to participate in the survey. This kind of deep collaboration with our partners makes this work possible and forms the backbone of the continued advocacy necessary to shift realities in our sector. We expect the report that emerges from the results of the Survey will be released in Fall 2019.

Lastly and most importantly, we would like to thank the young people with lived experience of homelessness that will take part and lend their voices to the study. Your experiences and realities will be treated with the utmost care.  

This article by David French, Director of Policy and Planning at A Way Home Canada, was originally published at Homeless Hub.


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