“Homelessness isn’t just about housing”


“We’ve seen great acts of kindness, but we’ve also seen empty shelves. No formula, no diapers, things like that that youth need, but they can’t afford to stock up on.”

The pandemic has made it hard for youth experiencing homelessness to meet their basic needs. 

Young people experiencing homelessness have been cut off from the places that once kept them safe and supported. 

For many months, the pandemic shut down support hubs and public spaces that are critical in providing unhoused youth with warmth and resources that serve their needs.  

And without a safe place to call home, youth have been incapable of self-isolating—putting themselves and others at greater risk of contracting the virus.

At GenNext Amplify, United Way’s Mohamed Sofa spoke with Charlotte Smith about the steps our communities can take in fighting youth homelessness during the pandemic and beyond. Charlotte is passionate about transforming her experiences of homelessness and addiction into tools for public awareness and community buildingShe is the co-founder of Making the Shift (MtS) Scholars with Lived Experience Network and LivEx Alliance 

End the stigma

“It’s kind of hard to comprehend that in Canada, an 11-year-old would have experienced homelessness, but it’s true. So, we need to start by working on prevention really early, and we need to start on education from day one, from kindergarten. Everyone should know that homelessness is something that can happen to anyone.”

Ending the stigma that surrounds homelessness is the first step in ensuring youth have access to safe, secure, and stable housing. To end youth homelessness for good, we have to address the many other factors that can drive a person to homelessness 

In Canada:
  • Violence accounts for at least 60 per cent of the reasons young people are forced to leave home.  
  • Almost one third of youth who are homeless identify as 2SLGBTQ+.  
  • Youth who have been involved in the child welfare system account for almost 40 per cent of the youth who experience homelessness. 

GenNext East Ontario and United Way invest in culturally and age-appropriate programs that provide youth with employment, housing, and educational supports as well as mental health resources.

Since the start of the pandemic, United Way has collaborated with partners at our COVID-19 Community Response Table to ensure youth experiencing homelessness have the technology they need to continue their education, stay connected to friends, and access vital social services.  

Learn, reflect, advocate

“I think what each of us can do is look at where we are in relation to the issue. We’re all playing a part in it. Homelessness isn’t just about housing. It’s about mental health, it’s sometimes about substance use, but more than that it’s about colonialism, capitalism, racism, and poverty.”

By joining these conversations with GenNext and learning about the complex issues in your community, you can have a big impact. Charlotte touched on some ways you can reflect on your role and make change today:  

Educate yourself on homelessness and its root causes. 

Reflect on where you are in relation to the issue, and how you can adjust your life to counteract it.  

Advocate in your workplace and within your community about homelessness and its causes. 

Become a part of prevention initiatives. 

Vote with the needs of vulnerable community members in mind.

Critical to the fight to end youth homelessness is to embrace the many ways we can each push back against the problem: advocating at work, making our voices heard with policymakers, and supporting local programs and services that work to prevent and end youth homelessness. 

To learn more about how you can be an advocate for change, watch our full discussion with Charlotte below. 
For more information about Charlotte’s work with Making the Shift (MtS) Scholars With Lived Experience Network, visit makingtheshiftinc.ca. 

Support vulnerable youth in our communities

At GenNext, we believe that everyone deserves to have a place to call home. Together with our partners, we’re working to get at the root of the issue to create long-term solutions that will end youth homelessness for good. Learn more and make a difference in your community today by joining GenNext+ 


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