Hidden in our Midst: Homeless Newcomer Youth in Toronto

Youth under 24 years of age represent the fastest growing segment of Canada’s homeless population (Koeller, 2008). Among the homeless youth population, a striking number are newcomers to Canada. In a recent survey of 244 street-involved youth in Toronto, 22.3% indicated that they had been born outside of Canada (Gaetz et al., 2010). Unfortunately, little research has examined the needs and experiences of newcomer youth who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness. Anecdotal information suggests that newcomer youth do experience street involvement differently than other groups of youth –newcomer youth may be less likely to avail themselves of shelters and services than other street-involved youth, and many may be couch-surfing or otherwise “hidden.” Newcomer youth may also have particular barriers, such as language barriers and a lack of stable income or family supports. Some newcomer youth may have also experienced trauma including fleeing a home country with civil strife, war or violence. The lack of knowledge about the unique pathways to street involvement and the services needed to exit homelessness among young newcomers to Canada suggests an area in critical need of research.

Key Messages

  1. Newcomer youth feel marginalized in the service system - navigating it often feels like finding their way through a complex, confusing maze. This leads them to fall through the cracks.
  2. Newcomer youth want a seat at the table – in other words, they want to be meaningfully engaged in decision-making regarding service design.
  3. To make decisions that serve newcomer youth, they should be hired at all levels in the system to help design, implement and run service programming.
Publication Date: 
Toronto, ON, Canada