Pandemic proof: Youth homelessness, mental health and substance use during COVID-19

In Progress

Child and Youth Health

COVID-19

Homelessness and Housing

Substance Use, Harm Reduction and Addictions

This report synthesizes real-world knowledge on promising solutions utilized by front-line providers serving young people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness.

This preliminary report represents survey data collected from June 10-17, 2020, and includes key findings and recommendations for practice, research and policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An estimated 35,000-40,000 Canadian youth (aged 13-24 years) experience homelessness at some point during the year and at least 6,000 on any given night.

The overwhelming majority have experienced some form of trauma and their challenges related to mental health and substance use have been documented for decades. Struggles with mental health and substance use are not unique to young people currently experiencing homelessness; rather, these challenges persist – and sometimes get worse – for young people who have experienced homelessness in the past.

It is against this backdrop of social and structural inequities and limited guidance in peer-reviewed literature around ‘what works’ to improve outcomes related to mental health, substance use, and sustained exits out of homelessness, that the COVID-19 pandemic came on scene – accelerating our need for an evidence-informed response.

About the Report

This report represents preliminary insights from a rapid knowledge synthesis of survey data collected from 188 providers who work with young people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness. To our knowledge, this is the first synthesis focused on the mental health and substance use needs of young people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Objective 1: Examine how COVID-19 has impacted the mental health and substance use patterns of young people who are currently experiencing or have experienced homelessness. We did this by beginning with an electronic survey to examine our key domains of: a) pandemic impacts on mental health and substance use patterns; b) practice adaptations; and c) promising and transformative approaches.

Objective 2: Identify how front-line providers have adapted their practices to address these needs. We will do this by conducting targeted focus groups and individual interviews with providers that (through the survey) have identified particularly innovative and effective approaches.

Objective 3: Highlight promising and transformative approaches to service delivery – particularly those with post-pandemic promise – that warrant further investigation.

Our next steps include a return to the data and peer-reviewed literature for deeper analysis, and conducting focus groups with providers and young people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness.

Child and Youth Health

COVID-19

Homelessness and Housing

Substance Use, Harm Reduction and Addictions

Dr. Naomi Thulien

MAP Affiliate Scientist

Investigators

  • Mardi Daley (The Lived Experience Lab)
  • David French (A Way Home Canada)
  • Dr. Amanda Noble (University of Toronto)
  • Dr. Sean Kidd (University of Toronto)

Funders

  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Collaborators

  • Covenant House Toronto
  • A Way Home Canada
  • The Lived Experience Lab

Contact Info

Dr. Naomi Thulien

Principal Investigator