Youth homelessness is a serious issue that is often neglected in the Canadian school system. Every year, at least 35,000 youth experience homelessness in Canada, and with the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the housing crisis, and the weakening of the economy, more and more youth are at risk of experiencing poverty and housing insecurity. Identifying and developing proactive measures and practices that explicitly consider students' needs and facilitate their access to school programs and services is crucial.

In this blog, we will explore the role of education policies in preventing youth homelessness in Canada. We will examine the state of youth homelessness, the impact of equity, diversity, and inclusion, the gaps in Canadian education policies, the importance of schools in preventing youth homelessness, and the need for comprehensive and up-to-date policies.

The State of Youth Homelessness in Canada

Youth homelessness is a complex issue that is often underestimated. One in five Canadians who did not complete high school has experienced unsheltered homelessness, meaning they have frequented shelters or lived in the streets or abandoned buildings. Youth who experience hidden homelessness temporarily live with relatives or couch surf because they have nowhere else to live. Hidden homelessness has been experienced by 9% of Canadians over 25 who did not obtain university-level certifications.

The Role of Schools in Preventing Youth Homelessness

Schools are central to preventing youth homelessness. They have a crucial role in identifying early signs of at-risk youth and coordinating support networks for effective interventions. 
The impact of homelessness on youth education and well-being is significant. Students who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness may feel excluded and unsupported, and struggle to stay and succeed in school. This lack of support reflects a significant gap in the Canadian policy agenda.

Why Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Matters

Youth with marginalized identities are more at risk of experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness than others. Indigenous youth who experience homelessness represent at least seven times the proportion of the general Indigenous youth population in Canada. Additionally, sexual minorities are twice as likely than heterosexual Canadians to experience unsheltered homelessness. Women, especially Black and sexual minority women, have greater difficulty meeting their financial needs than men. Likewise, 2SLGBTQ+ Indigenous youth are more likely to "become homeless earlier, face more victimization in all contexts, and face greater mental health and addiction challenges." People living with one or more disability are also significantly more at risk of housing insecurity and homelessness.

Given the intersectional ways in which one's education and social background can impact the experience of homelessness, the following sections provide a jurisdictional scan of Canadian education policies relating to homelessness, equity, inclusion and diversity, as well as admission and attendance.

A Jurisdictional Scan of Canadian Education Policies

1. Policies Addressing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Several school policies and protocols include sections on preventing discrimination and recognizing equity, diversity and inclusion, but they rarely acknowledge these issues in relation to poverty, housing instability or homelessness.

The Greater Victoria School District in British Columbia explicitly recognizes homelessness as one of the many issues that gender and sexual minorities may face, particularly affecting transgender youth. Similarly, the Winnipeg School Division’s Accessibility Plan acknowledges that “poverty” and  “lack of adequate housing” are systemic barriers to education access for people living with disabilities. However, these policies do not provide clear measures to address poverty and housing issues, apart from mentioning that some unspecified support programs outside schools may help. 

2. Policies Addressing Admission, Attendance and Access

A review of admission policies reveals that homelessness or housing insecurity is not taken into consideration as a circumstance impacting students’ capacity to enrol and attend school. Often, school access depends on the student's home address/proof of residency, which is usually linked to their parent(s) or guardian(s). If a student's address changes suddenly due to homelessness or poverty, they may have to move outside their assigned school zone. This situation may make it difficult for students to attend school, especially if they don't have a stable relationship with their parents/guardians or a permanent address.

While these policies may provide a framework for efficient operationalization, they inevitably discriminate against poor, housing-insecure or homeless students by assuming youth can rely on their parent(s) or guardian(s) and access stable housing and transport. 

3. Policies Addressing Homelessness and Poverty

At large, Canadian educational policies do not seem to recognize youth homelessness as a problem for students. 

The Government of Alberta is the only province that explicitly acknowledges the unique circumstances and challenges that homeless or housing-insecure students face. An online guideline for school personnel recommends measures like building trusting relationships with students, raising awareness with their families, and supplying practical support to address issues of food, hygiene, transportation, and access to social/health programs and services. However, it is worth noting that a formal policy does not mandate this guideline and does not provide schools with the necessary resources or personnel training to tackle the problem effectively. 

Other education policies that addressed poverty did not provide long-term funding or programs, or focused on school performance instead of offering structural, financial or material supports. 

Creating Comprehensive and Up-to-Date Policies

Through this review of Canadian provincial/territorial and school board policies, we have found that some initial steps have been taken across the country to address the issue of youth homelessness in schools. However, most of the policy action comes from policies that address youth homelessness indirectly. 

The recommendations below aim to build upon prior policy initiatives and address structural and systemic policy gaps to prevent youth homelessness through school systems.

  1. Identify how school district-specific priorities currently address youth homelessness, followed by consultations between jurisdictional policymakers, school board members, educators and social workers employed by school boards, researchers, and policy analysts to inform and articulate a policy agenda reflective of district priorities.
  2. Begin consultations between researchers, faculties of education, and school boards to explore initiatives to address youth homelessness through school programs. 
  3. Identify and support collaborative projects for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) for youth at risk of or experiencing homelessness and related issues, including destigmatizing youth homelessness and increasing access to support. 
  4. Identify and create professional learning opportunities for pre- and in-service teachers to learn about the problem of youth homelessness and how it can be addressed in schools. 
  5. Partner with current service providers of programs addressing youth homelessness to leverage the dissemination of findings to policymakers and school districts. 


Education policies play a crucial role in preventing youth homelessness in Canada, but there are gaps that need to be addressed. School policies and programs should provide practical and proactive support to address issues related to housing insecurity, food security, and access to social/health programs and services. It is also important to recognize the unique needs of marginalized youth and the impact of equity, diversity, and inclusion policies on the experience of youth homelessness. 

We urge school boards, community partners, education policymakers, and provincial/territorial governments to work together to create comprehensive, up-to-date policies to address youth homelessness in schools. We have a responsibility to ensure that all students have access to safe and stable housing, and that they are supported in their educational pursuits.