TORONTO: One-quarter of Canada’s homeless youths are immigrants
TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
“We need a coordinated system that works together instead of working in silos,” Cheyanne Ratnam, a peer researcher of the report, Hidden in Our Midst: Homeless Newcomer Youth in Toronto, told a panel discussion Tuesday.
Advocates and experts are calling on the province and city for a more co-ordinated approach in addressing homelessness among immigrant youths in light of a new report that identifies existing service gaps for this vulnerable group.
“We need a coordinated system that works together instead of working in silos,” Cheyanne Ratnam, a peer researcher of the report, Hidden in Our Midst: Homeless Newcomer Youth in Toronto, told a panel discussion Tuesday. An immigrant from Sri Lanka, the 27-year-old has had first-hand experience of homelessness.
One-third, or 65,000, of Canada’s homeless population are youths, and of those, nearly one-quarter were born outside Canada, said the study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.
The study’s definition of homelessness include youth under the age of 24, staying outside, staying in a shelter or transitional housing, having no fixed address, “couch-surfing” or staying at a friend’s or family’s home.
It is the first comprehensive report to explore the cross-section of youth homelessness and newcomer status in Toronto.
The project recruited young people as peer researchers for its research design and led focus groups with 74 homeless newcomer youth across the city.
The report found that for homeless newcomer youth, the social safety net operates with too many silos and may be more of a hindrance than a help to some.
It recommends systemic changes to develop “holistic, coordinated, youth-centred services” that respond to the unique strengths, needs and goals of immigrant youth.
“Youth and family services need to pay closer attention to programs that support families,” help their children adjust and prevent separations and homelessness, said Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO of The Wellesley Institute and medical director of underserved populations at CAMH.
The study also points to the need to improve services geared towards families and youth who are dealing with reunification challenges and to prevent youth from fleeing their homes or becoming homeless in the first place.
Carline Casimir, a peer researcher in the study, has lived at the edge of homelessness since she came here alone from St. Lucia in June 2012. A single mother, the 22-year-old said immigrant youth also face discrimination from landlords and employers. She feels empowered to be part of the project.
“Research is not meant to occupy shelves. It is meant to propel change from every direction. My experiences motivate me to be the change,” Casimir said.
Irwin Elman, Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, said the lived experience of young people contains a wisdom that can create change.
“This report is an example of what can happen when we reach out to immigrant youth who have experienced homelessness,” he said. “We must listen and partner with these young people, because their success is intrinsic to Ontario’s success.”