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“I am not my homelessness”


At the age of 13, young people often worry about completing homework, making the basketball team, or hanging out with the right group of friends.

At the age of 13, Tiffany had to worry about finding a safe place to sleep each night.

When the relationship with her adoptive parents started to break down, Tiffany ran away from home and spent her teenage years couch-surfing, bouncing around from home to home, just trying to survive.

“It’s dark, it’s lonely, you feel unworthy.”​

Through advocacy, research, smart investments and bringing the right people to the table, United Way East Ontario is working to end youth homelessness. With help from partners like A Way Home Ottawa, Tiffany now has a home of her own, and a job that empowers her to help other youth who are experiencing homelessness.

No one chooses to be homeless

Many factors can drive youth to homelessness, including being involved in the child welfare system (like Tiffany), which accounts for 40% of youth who experience homelessness.

Additionally, for some groups of young people, becoming homeless is much more likely than it should be:

  • LGBTQ+ youth account for almost 30 per cent of youth who are homeless
  • 40 per cent of youth who are homeless are First Nations, Inuit or Metis

“In 2018, there were an estimated 1,200 young people who experienced homelessness in Ottawa.”

While hundreds of those youth sleep in emergency shelters, many others sleep in cars or on the couches of friends and acquaintances, or put themselves into potentially dangerous situations in order to have a place to stay.

Ending youth homelessness

Photo courtesy of LoveOttawa

Tiffany experienced chronic homelessness for many years, bumping up against barriers like a lack of affordable housing, being unable to afford the deposit on rental units, and not having a stable source of income to support herself. To make matters more difficult, homelessness is different for young people than it is for adults: youth often don’t have the life experiences and skills necessary to live on their own and they often lack positive relationships with adults to help them navigate those challenges.

With the help of United Way and our partners, Tiffany has landed on her feet. We ensure hundreds of other youth have access to culturally- and age-appropriate wrap-around services that help with housing, life skills, employment, education and, where necessary, mental health and addictions.

These long-term solutions shorten the length of time that young people are involved with the shelter system, and set them up on a path towards stability. This not only shuts the door on adult homelessness—it saves lives.

Some of us have a safety net. Help us build that net for youth who don’t. With your support, we can provide vulnerable youth with opportunities to build a brighter future.

“I’m not my homelessness, you know? Homelessness doesn’t define me.”




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When folks have access to safe, affordable, and accessible housing, they have a much better chance of staying employed, going to school, feeding themselves and their families, and living more stable lives.

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