COVID-19 has had an adverse effect on the lives of our most vulnerable youth. We are witnessing increased stress, anxiety and depression in young people as a result of our current crisis. Many more youth are reaching out to helplines and counselling agencies across the country. They’re worried about what the future holds for them. Many who are homeless are struggling to find food, access to shelter and basic needs.

According to The Youth Homelessness Prevention and Housing Stabilization Strategy collaborative, funded by the United Way, children and youth who experience mental health challenges are at a much higher risk of experiencing an illness as adults. They are also more likely to have other complicating health and social problems.

The collaborative of 38 community partners are from a variety of sectors supporting young people. It is working to develop a system of care that involves service coordination and system transformation for York Region youth who are at risk of experiencing homelessness or are homeless. The aim is to develop a community-wide youth homelessness prevention and housing stabilization strategy.

Mental health and addictions problems often begin early in life, i.e. during childhood and adolescence. Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years are three times more likely to have a substance use problem than people over the age of 24. About 24 per cent of deaths in 15 to 24 year-olds in Canada are due to suicide (Open Minds, Healthy Minds, 2011).

It’s estimated that about 48 per cent of homeless individuals experience mental health issues. Over half of respondents (53 per cent) reported having a mental health issue. About percent of homeless individuals have reported mental health issues. About 71 per cent of individuals who identify as part of the LGBTQ2S community have reported mental health issues.

With the public health directive to isolate at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing the mental health of youth starting to decline and, in some cases, we anticipate that this will lead to increased youth homelessness. The longer young people remain homeless, the worse their health and life chances become, and the greater the costs to our health care, criminal justice and social service systems.

“It is our civic and moral responsibility to address the mental health of youth in our community. Youth continue to fall between the cracks, and it is up to us to work collectively to enhance the quality of life of our most vulnerable. It is through partnership, leadership and collective action; that we have come together to develop our very own York Region Youth Homelessness Prevention and Housing Stabilization Strategy. A strategy that will prevent and shorten the amount of time a young person experiences homelessness,” says Aleem Punja, Chair, York Region Collaborative to Reduce and Prevent Homelessness.

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