About at-risk, homeless and trafficked youth

Youth homelessness is a seemingly intractable problem in Canada, but the plight of homeless youth remains largely misunderstood.

Across the country, in large and smaller communities alike, vulnerable young people find themselves with no place to call home – couch-surfing with friends, staying in shelters, in squats or on the street in alleys, doorways or parks.

  • Over the course of the year, the number of young people who spend some time homeless in Canada is as many as 40,000, and on any given night, there may be up to 7,000 homeless youth.

  • Young people who are homeless (ages 13-24) make up approximately 20 percent of the homeless population in Canada.

  • In a recent study, 40 percent of homeless youth were younger than 16 when they first experienced homelessness.

  • Homeless youth often have multiple episodes of homelessness. In a national survey, over 86 percent of homeless youth had a previous episode of homelessness and 50 percent reported five or more episodes.            

Who are homeless youth?

Homeless kids come from every part of the country and every background, but there are factors that put some youth more at risk.

  • In a recent national survey, almost 80 percent of homeless youth reported leaving home because of family conflict, 63 percent of homeless youth reported childhood trauma and abuse.

  • Almost 60 percent reported some involvement with child welfare in the past.

  • Many homeless youth experienced challenges in school. About 83 percent experienced bullying in school, which is four times more than Canadian youth in general, and 50 percent of homeless youth reported being tested for a learning disability. The drop-out rate for homeless youth is 53 percent, compared to the nine percent national rate.

  • A high percentage of homeless youth experience declining mental health. In a recent national survey, 42 percent reported at least one suicide attempt. If the youth was exposed to sexual and physical violence on the street, the youth was over three times more likely to experience serious mental health challenges.

  • There are typically more homeless male youth than females (63 percent of youth in shelters are male), however this may be an outcome of the fact that young women are especially at risk of crime and violence while homeless, leading them to find alternatives even if those also pose significant risk.

  • Certain significant groups of youth are over-represented, including Aboriginal youth, and in cities like Toronto, black youth. LGBTQ+ youth make up between 25-40 percent of the homeless youth population.

Life on the street

While young people may think running to the street is a means of escape, they soon find it can lead them on a dangerous, and often deadly, path. Desperate and alone, the young are easy prey to those who wait to lure them into drugs, sex trafficking and gangs.

  • Sixty percent of homeless youth were victims of a violent crime.

  • In another Toronto-specific survey, 76 percent reported being victims of a crime in the previous 12 months, with most reporting multiple incidents, and 64 percent reported being victims of a violent crime. The younger the youth, the more likely they are to be victims of violent crime with 75 percent of teens aged 16-17 compared to 15 percent for youth older than 20.

  • Over 38 percent of female homeless youth in the Toronto survey reported being the victim of sexual assault.

  • Ontario is a major hub of human trafficking with 65 percent of police-reported cases in Canada. The majority involving domestic sex trafficking. In Ontario, 63 percent of the victims were Canadian citizens. Homeless young women are among the most vulnerable to sex trafficking, but girls of all backgrounds and circumstances are exploited. They have been as young as 13, and on average they are 17.

  • It is very challenging for youth to maintain employment while homeless. Over 75 percent of youth in a recent national survey indicated they were unemployed, compared to 13 percent among youth in the general Canadian public.

About Covenant House Toronto

Covenant House Toronto is Canada’s largest agency serving at risk, homeless and trafficked youth. The agency provides 24/7 crisis shelter, transitional housing on site and in the community as well as education, counselling, health care, employment assistance, job training and aftercare. They serve as many as 250 youth every day.


A national leader, Covenant House educates and advocates for change to help at risk, homeless and trafficked youth by influencing public policy and delivering prevention and awareness programs.

To do all this, the agency relies on donors for more than 80% of its $27-million annual operating budget.

Since 1982, Covenant House has served more than 90,000 young people.

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