Prevention of Youth Homelessness in Canada: Revealing and Closing the Gaps in Education Policies

Youth homelessness is a serious issue that is often neglected in the Canadian school system. Students who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness may feel excluded and unsupported, and struggle to stay and succeed in school (Schwan et al., 2018). This lack of support reflects a larger gap in the Canadian policy agenda.

We conducted a review of education policies across provincial/territorial and school district levels and found that none of these policies takes into account how homelessness and housing insecurity impact students’ ability to stay in school. Some policies and measures related to inclusion, attendance and access were created to meet administrative needs instead of providing support and protection to vulnerable students.

Yet, research suggests that schools are central to preventing youth homelessness (Gaetz et al., 2018; Malenfant et al., 2020). They have a crucial role in identifying early signs of at-risk youth and coordinating support networks for effective interventions.

Every year, at least 35 000 youth experience homelessness in Canada (Gaetz et al., 2016). With the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, housing crisis and weakening of the economy, combined with a generalized lack of resources and supports for schools and education workers, more and more youth are at risk of experiencing poverty and housing insecurity. It is crucial to identify and develop proactive measures and practices that explicitly consider students’ needs and facilitate their access to school programs and services.

The purpose of this policy brief is to highlight the gaps in Canadian education policies concerning youth homelessness prevention and intervention. 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.

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