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Constrained Choice: Housing for Youth who are Homeless in Edmonton

  • Author / Creator
    Quinlan, Laura A.
  • The National Housing Strategy Act, passed by the Canadian government in 2019 to address homelessness, enshrines housing as a fundamental right. Despite these efforts, many individuals still lack access to adequate housing. Canada witnesses an annual occurrence of homelessness for youth ranging from 35,000 to 40,000 (S. B. Collins & Schormans, 2023; Nichols et al., 2023). In Edmonton, Alberta, the site for this study, Homeward Trust reported a homelessness count of approximately 2,800 individuals, with 25% being youth under 18 years old (Fortner, 2022). This data represents a significant increase from pre-pandemic levels in 2018 when the homeless population numbered just under 2,000 individuals (Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH), n.d.).

    High homeless rates among youth are troublesome because youth who do not obtain housing early in the homeless journey are more likely to become adults who are chronically homeless. Further, youth participants have fewer problems than adults in adjusting to housing. Therefore, work is needed to decrease the number of youths who are homeless; being housed leads to better outcomes for youth and aids in reducing homeless rates overall.

    Many researchers have looked at the experiences of people who are homeless, including youth. However, there is little research on how housing choice is constrained for youth who are homeless, and how those constraints are structurally produced. This study seeks to fill this gap. My study aims to comprehensively examine the challenges faced by youth who are homeless in accessing suitable housing and to identify their specific needs and requirements in this regard. This study answers the following research questions: (1) How is choice constrained for youth in obtaining housing? and (2) What do youth need to be able to obtain housing? Results are based on thirteen semi-structured interviews with youth who are homeless and four with professionals engaged in youth Housing First initiatives. Drawing on the concept of cumulative disadvantage, my analysis highlights the shared need among youth for a safe and secure home. Unfortunately, many youths who are homeless encounter significant challenges when attempting to secure appropriate housing due to systemic factors.

    Additionally, the shared need for a safe and secure home is experienced by all youth. All youth participants had specific needs that needed to be met to move past homelessness. Some of these needs are similar across many participants, and others only by a few. My study shows that social challenges and experiences of discrimination contribute to perpetuating homelessness. Structural and institutional factors pose significant barriers for youth who are homeless in their pursuit of housing.

    Moreover, youth must navigate “Catch-22” scenarios, such as the requirement to prove government income support to obtain housing, while funding is contingent on having a place to live. Finally, all youth have requirements that need to be met for a house to be a home (Gram‐Hanssen & Bech‐Danielsen, 2004). Meeting their needs necessitates comprehensive wrap-around support services, including survival assistance, support for economic and social participation, and dedicated housing support. Only by providing holistic support can youth overcome the multifaceted challenges of homelessness and secure a stable and dignified home—a place they can proudly call their own.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2023
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/r3-y4yj-b958
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.