“Why don't homeless youth just go home?”
In our work with youth experiencing homelessness, this question keeps coming up. Public knowledge about the barriers to “home” is low and there’s no shortage of stereotypes that get in the way. So Eva’s and Elemental Inc. decided to team up and launch a public awareness campaign this December.
As part of our efforts, we peppered busy Toronto streets with “unwelcome mats” in the hopes that they’d spark a lively conversation about youth homelessness and what we can do about it. We brought cameras to film reactions of passers-by over a couple of days, anticipating double-takes, furrowed brows, shaking heads, and maybe even some news stories.
The problem is ... no one seemed to notice.
People walked and rolled right over and around our mats. Nobody slowed to give them even fleeting attention. The footage we captured was banal, just everyday people in a busy city getting on with their daily lives.
This was a failed youth homelessness awareness campaign if there ever was one. And it spoke volumes.
Sometimes, we “pass by” the reality that thousands of young people don’t have places to call home because we don’t know what to do about it. It seems so overwhelming that we bow our heads and move on.
But could our avoidance go deeper than that? Could it also be that don't really want to see youth homelessness for what it is? Are we too complacent, too quick to distance ourselves?
It’s simple to judge other people for homelessness—maybe youth, maybe their families. It’s harder to admit that something is profoundly wrong, that in a generally well-resourced country like Canada, some youth slip through cracks to land on couches and the streets, at risk of chronic homelessness. It’s difficult to acknowledge that some youth face even higher risks of homelessness because of experiences of institutionalization, discrimination, and marginalization. And it’s especially difficult to come to terms with the fact that the average age of someone who is homeless in Canada is just 39.
But we can’t sit in that bleak place. We have to step up and prioritize youth to turn things around, reducing youth homelessness today and cutting it off entirely tomorrow.
That’s why we decided to release our failed campaign video anyway. With national discussions about housing in full force and a standing question mark about what it all really means for young people experiencing homelessness, it’s the right time to break through the veneer and do something.
Please help us spread Eva’s “failed campaign” by sharing our video with your contacts. Sometimes, failures can reveal hard truths, and hard truths can lead to powerful, game-changing action.