Mahatma Ghandi once said: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
It may come as a surprise to many that there are legions of homeless youth in the country. They are voiceless, invisible and desperate. On October 12, 2012, a commentary appeared in the Times Colonist by Mark Muldoon, the Executive Director of the Threshold Housing Society, calling out for a special day to bring the country to its senses.
Last year, Ontario MP Carolyn Bennett introduced Motion 546 requesting Nov. 17 to be declared National Youth Homelessness Awareness Day. It may come as a shock to many people that such a day needs to be declared, but the level of youth homelessness has reached “epidemic” proportions. That was the term used by Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group when he was enlisted to help raise national awareness about the crisis.
The statistics are startling. Conservatively, there are estimated to be 65,000 homeless youth in Canada between the ages of 16 and 24. This is about one-third of the estimated homeless population in the country; some non-governmental organizations estimate the numbers are much higher. In the past 25 years, there has been a 450 per cent increase in the number of youth shelter beds in Toronto. There are between 1,500 and 2,000 homeless youth in Toronto on any given night. In the 2011 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, the youth homeless population increased 29 per cent from 2008. In any community, about 40 per cent of the youth who are homeless belong to the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community. First Nation youths are also disproportionally over-represented. The suicide rate for street-involved youth is about 10.3 times he national average for Canadian youth. Research shows that 87 per cent of Canadians are unaware of just how many homeless youth exist in our midst.