3.2 Responding to mental health concerns on the front line: Building capacity at a crisis shelter for youth experiencing homelessness

It is well established that youth experiencing homelessness face many challenges with their mental health. For example, a literature review of the topic found that 30%–40% of youth who are homeless experience major depression, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance use (Kidd, 2013). A small number also experience psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, although this incidence is believed to be larger than that found in the general population (Kidd, 2013). Moreover, an alarming number of youth face some form of emotional distress regardless of whether they have a formal diagnosis. Our administrative data at Covenant House Toronto, Canada’s largest youth-serving agency, show that about 30% of the young people we serve in our emergency shelter have a serious mental health concern, and of a sample of 164 youth using our drop-in, shelter, and transitional housing programs, over 70% reported experiencing at least one symptom of depression, anxiety, hearing or seeing things that others could not, distress from past trauma, sleep disturbances, and/or suicidal ideation in the past three months. 

Sean Kidd, Tyler Frederick, Jeff Karabanow, Stephen Gaetz
Publication Date: 
Canadian Observatory on Homelessness