Defining Youth Homelessness

As noted, the conditions by which youth become and experience homelessness differ from adults. While the HPS Guide to PiT Counts in Canada stipulates the types of homelessness that will be enumerated as part of the HPS Coordinated Count, it is still useful to consider a youth-specific definition of homelessness. Doing so will allow you to make adjustments to your PiT Count methodology, to ensure that youth are accurately enumerated in your PiT Count.   

Canadian Definition of Youth Homelessness

“Youth homelessness” refers to the situation and experience of young people between the ages of 13 and 24 who are living independently of parents and/or care givers, but have no stable or consistent residence and currently lack the means and ability to acquire it.  Young people who become homelessness are typically in the process of transitioning towards adulthood (cognitively, socially, emotionally) and may not have acquired the personal, social and life skills, experiences, education and resources to become fully independent and sustain themselves over the long term. Youth homelessness becomes a major social problem when society fails to provide young people and their families with necessary and adequate supports to enable them to transition to adulthood and independence in a safe and planned way.   Few young people choose to be homeless, and the experience is generally negative, unpleasant, stressful and distressing.

Provisionally Accommodated "Couch Surfing"

The PiT Count methodology was designed specifically to measure unsheltered and sheltered homelessness - most commonly, individuals that are ‘rough sleeping’ or residing in emergency shelters. Other types of homelessness – such as couch surfing – are not well captured through a PiT Count. In fact, it is impossible to measure the extent of hidden homelessness in a community through a PiT Count. It is thereby difficult to measure the extent of youth homelessness in a community. Youth, who are more likely to couch surf, are routinely missed through PiT Counts.  If youth homelessness is a priority in your community, consider using a broader definition of homelessness for your PiT Count, one that includes individuals living temporarily with others (see the Canadian Definition of Homelessness, item 3.2).

Worth noting: You must be clear with stakeholders that the PiT Count cannot provide an estimate of hidden homelessness in your community. However, through the PiT Count Survey, it can provide valuable data on the experience of youth homelessness; Data that may otherwise be missed if youth who are couch surfing are ineligible to participate.

Resource: For more information on hidden homelessness refer to The COH Toolkit: Adding to the Count

Differences within the Youth Homeless Population

Individuals that experience homelessness are not a homogenous group; this similarly applies to youth homelessness. As the Canadian Definition of Youth Homelessness (forthcoming) notes: males, Aboriginal youth, black youth, newcomers and youth that identify as LGBTQ2 tend to be overrepresented among the homeless population. A key objective of your PIT Count should be to measure the extent to which certain demographics are overrepresented among youth experiencing homelessness in your community; this information is crucial for effective service planning and delivery.

Worth noting: Work with services that have experience with marginalized groups; they will provide you with information on where to locate youth and strategies to encourage participation in youth magnet events. 

The Canadian Definition of Youth Homelessness - led by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness - is forthcoming, expected for release in 2015.