By Anike Onile, Founder, Life of Hope Foundation
Young people under the age of 24 represent the fastest growing sector of Canada’s homeless population. Furthermore, immigrant and newcomer youth are over-represented within this group.
Youth homelessness is a rising concern nationwide, with young people under the age of 24 representing the fastest growing sector of Canada’s homeless population, especially in cities where affordable housing is in short supply.
In particular, immigrant and newcomer youth are over-represented within this population and face many additional factors that contribute to the pathway into homelessness.
Many concerns such as age, gender, race, and sexual orientation are major contributors, however, for newcomer youth, these factors in addition to the presence of language and cultural barriers, lack of status, and personal ties and history in Canada, uniquely place them among the most vulnerable of the homeless youth population.
Newcomers, including immigrants and refugees, often face increasing barriers to affordable housing. Various factors including poverty, discrimination, racism, unrecognized foreign employment and education credentials, delays in work permits and/or health-related issues can place many newcomers at risk of homelessness.
When asked, the most frequently mentioned barrier is the experience of perceived unfair treatment from current and potential landlords, as well as housing service workers.
Barriers also include not having a previous rental history in Canada, not having a fixed address, disclosing the fact that they are currently living in a shelter, being unemployed, not having a stable source of income, and not being able to communicate their needs to landlords and service workers due to language barriers.
In both employment and education, the non-recognition of foreign credentials can be viewed as a form of institutional discrimination which may lead to newcomer youth having to start again and work in entry-level positions or return to school.
Seeking education is sometimes ranked lower as newcomer youth tend to prioritize securing reliable employment and affordable housing while attending appointments connected with immigration.
Although foreign credentials may provide a valid measure that is comparable to the professional knowledge and abilities of Canadian colleagues, employers have no way of evaluating qualifications that are obtained in unfamiliar or foreign countries.
As a result, newcomer youth often find themselves with precarious employment. When it does come to education, newcomer youth are found in environments that are not conducive to learning, have little access to private space for homework and are less likely to own laptops and/or computers.
What can we do as a community to help?
Talk! Have conversations with friends, family members and co-workers about the barriers that newcomer youth face when it comes to education, employment, and affordable housing. By educating others, more people will be inclined to help and come up with practical solutions to break down these barriers.
Peer Relationships and Mentorship! Because immigrant youth lack the personal networks and support systems that are required for socioeconomic opportunities, forming a connection with peers and mentors will help them navigate the Canadian culture and provide them with more opportunities to succeed when it comes to education and employment.
Apprenticeships and Practicums! This will allow for youth to move into the labour market more effectively and provide long-term solutions to become financially stable.
Newcomer Youth Service Organizations & Programs! Service providers that are able to deliver and refer immigrant youth to community-based education, employment, recreation, leadership, life skills and, health and wellness supports.
Provide affordable housing for newcomer youth! We need more landlords that are aware of the difficulty in obtaining housing for these youth and are empathetic towards their situation.
Donate! Newcomer youth face issues such as transit costs or not having work-appropriate clothing. Whether it is food, clothing, or monetary donations, this will help with their acclimatization into Canada and provide them with resources to build a brighter future.
The Homeless Hub. (2021). About Homelessness. https://www.homelesshub.ca/about-homelessness/population-specific/newcomers
Canadian Mental Health Association. (2014). Hidden population at risk of homelessness: Immigrant and newcomer youth in Canada. https://ontario.cmha.ca/news/hidden-population-risk-homelessness-immigrant-newcomer-youth-canada/
Centre For Addiction and Mental Health. (2014). Hidden in Our Midst: Homeless Newcomer Youth in Toronto – Uncovering the Supports to Prevent and Reduce Homelessness. https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/pdfs---reports-and-books---research/hidden-in-our-midst-final-report_nov-2014-pdf.pdf
Now Toronto. (2014). New insights into homeless newcomer youth. https://nowtoronto.com/new-insights-into-homeless-newcomer-youth
Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement – Toronto. (2001). To Build on Hope: Overcoming the Challenges Facing Newcomer Youth at Risk in Ontario. http://atwork.settlement.org/downloads/Build_On_Hope_Final_Report.pdf