Supporting Youth Experiencing Homelessness and Substance Abuse in Toronto


Young people experiencing homelessness in the City of Toronto face complex historical, structural, and symbolic barriers in accessing support. These challenges, coupled with substance use, can exacerbate young people’s experiences of discrimination and marginalization. The City of Toronto has a nightly shelter occupancy for a mere 543 young people yet the estimated number of young people experiencing homelessness reaches upwards of 2,000 per night. Of that 2,000, 63% are fleeing forms of abuse or violence, 29% identify as 2SLGBTQIA+, 30% as First Nations, Métis or Inuit, and 28% as members of racialized communities.

Barriers to harm reduction resources identified by young people experiencing homelessness in Toronto include waitlists, eligibility of programs, lack of program hours, physical inaccessibility of programs, and lack of program options. To better serve young people in Toronto, public health services must step up and protect young people with harm reduction services rather than resorting to youth justice measures.  

TYC’s position

In light of the 2019 Budget, the Urban Health working group is particularly focused on three items related to youth substance use and homelessness. They are as follows:

  1. The lack of funding to expand harm reduction services in the Out of the Cold program.

  2. The lack of funding for youth-centred service providers in expanding The Works’ Community Outreach Program.

  3. A requirement for all City divisions, community agencies, and first responders to have Naloxone on site and be trained as per the recommendations laid out in the Toronto Overdose Action Plan.

We conclude with 3 main asks:

  1. That the City take immediate action in supporting the ongoing work of countless advocates in revisiting the motion to declare the housing crisis a state of emergency and furthermore,

2.   That Toronto Public Health reallocate or establish funding for one or multiple youth peer outreach  workers at The Works’ Community Outreach Program.

3.   That Toronto Public Health and the City of Toronto collaborate and track data in mandating Naloxone training, as per the recommendations in the Toronto Overdose Action Plan, to,

  • All City of Toronto divisions - specifically to shelters and respite centres.

  • First responders.

It is imperative that the City of Toronto critically interrogate their responses to drug prohibition and the shelter and homelessness crisis. It is unacceptable for young people to continue to fall through the cracks in municipal-led efforts in housing and harm reduction services. We believe the City of Toronto must commit to immediate actions that will boost and continually fund proper resources for young people experiencing homelessness and for young people who use drugs as well.