It is increasingly apparent that despite being overrepresented among those experiencing homelessness, research on Black youth homelessness is limited. This blog recaps the second session of ‘Prevention Matters!’, in which Nathan Okonta (Canadian Observatory on Homelessness), Dagma Koyi (R.E.S.T. Centres), and Clovis Grant (360°kids), shine a spotlight on the experiences of Black youth, their needs, and what homelessness prevention could look like for this often overlooked population.

What are some of the Pathways into Black Youth Homelessness? What Factors Contribute to their Overrepresentation?

There are many pathways into Black youth homelessness, some of which are similar to other youth demographics, and some that are distinct from them. Poverty, racism in housing, unemployment, and the Black youth experience with the school and child welfare systems were highlighted as key pathways to Black youth homelessness.

There are also a multitude of structural factors that contribute to the overrepresentation of Black youth among homeless populations. When discussing Black youth experiencing homelessness, it's especially important to consider family dynamics in Black communities, but a nuanced examination is necessary to create effective prevention strategies.

1. Structural Factors

Poverty is a driving force behind Black youths’ overrepresentation in the homeless population. Many Black families are struggling significantly, and intergenerational poverty is a prominent issue. Statistics Canada tells us that 25.9% of Black Canadians live in unsuitable housing conditions - an especially striking statistic when compared to 9.1% for the general population. Dagma highlighted that many Black youth face housing insecurity throughout their whole lives and have never had access to secure housing. The lack of affordable housing is a major contributing factor to this issue:

"We have grade 12 students - think about it - grade 12 students having to think about paying $1,500 a month, not for an apartment, but for a room in a shared space [because of housing unaffordability]."

2. Family Dynamics

There are various systemic factors that contribute to escalating tensions within Black families. For instance, Nathan pointed out that due to heightened surveillance in Black communities, Black parents may be stricter on their children, creating a difficult environment for youth who may leave home before they are ready to live on their own. Another significant issue is the separation of family members who are split across multiple countries. When these families reunite in Canada, there can be friction that causes relationships to break down, which may cause young people to become homeless

3. Discrimination

It is essential to address discrimination and stigma when discussing youth homelessness. However, Black youth, especially those with other intersecting identities, experience additional challenges. Queer youth, for example, are more likely to leave their homes before they are ready to do so due to transphobia and/or homophobia. According to Dagma, who works directly with youth, Black youth face significant racial discrimination from landlords, which makes an already tight rental market even more difficult: 

"It is a reality that a number of our clients face… We have to build awareness around the fact that Black youth are not really acceptable by landlords in the market."

For these reasons, strategies to address Black youth homelessness must continue to be intersectional and inclusive.

How to Bridge the Gap between Research Knowledge and Frontline Knowledge on Black Youth in Homelessness

There is a significant need to connect research knowledge and frontline work when it comes to understanding Black youth in homelessness. A good first step would be to advocate for disaggregated data on Black youth across the sector. It is important to note that there are various subgroups of Black youth, and each of them has unique and nuanced experiences with homelessness. As Nathan stated:

“Black youth homelessness is not a monolithic.”

Taking the time to break data down into various subgroups allows us to take a closer look at how homelessness looks different for Black youth depending on their other intersecting identities. 

Clovis also emphasized that we need a deeper understanding of the “why” of Black youth homelessness, to prevent misinterpretations of data: 

“We cannot stop talking about equity. About the legacies of capitalism, and racism, and enslavement. What that has done to people. What that has done to Indigenous people. What that has done to Black people.”

It is essential to avoid misinterpreting data as it may lead us down the wrong pathway in our efforts to bridge the gap. Black and Indigenous communities have had historically challenged pasts that we need to understand. We can achieve this by being curious and deliberate about topics such as the impact slavery has had on modern Black communities. Being intentional, and understanding the “why”, enables us to develop solutions that are more effective.

What Could Homelessness Prevention Look Like for Black Youth?

Addressing Black youth homelessness starts with taking responsibility for the environments that structural factors have created in Black neighbourhoods, and finding ways to reduce these harmful impacts on Black families. According to Nathan, addressing these factors could decrease the prevalence of Black youth experiencing homelessness. To tackle the root causes of Black homelessness, Clovis notes that it is important to collaborate with Black-focused community organizations at every step of our processes.

The COH’s definition of homelessness prevention states that, where possible, we must try to prevent all youth from becoming homeless in the first place. For Black youth, this involves extending culturally appropriate aftercare, providing housing allowances so young people can sustain their housing while moving forward, addressing food insecurity, intensive case management, landlord engagement to prevent evictions, capacity building for financial literacy and tenant advocacy.


Black youth homelessness is a complex and multifaceted issue. As we have seen, poverty, discrimination, family dynamics, and a lack of affordable housing are some of the key contributors to the overrepresentation of Black youth among homeless populations. To address this issue effectively, taking an intersectional and inclusive approach is crucial, considering the unique experiences of different subgroups of Black youth. Advocating for disaggregated data on Black youth homelessness, as well as deeper community engagement and collaboration, can help bridge the gap between research knowledge and frontline work. 

Ultimately, prevention matters if we want to address the housing crisis effectively. By understanding Black youth's unique experiences and needs, we can work towards developing effective prevention strategies to ensure all Black youth have a safe and secure place to call home. 

Curious to learn more about homelessness prevention? Check out our previous sessions of ‘Prevention Matters!’ and sign up for the next one!