Youth Without Shelter is Protecting and Providing for our Most Vulnerable

Youth Without Shelter is a charitable organization that provides residential programs, life-skills training, employment training, housing programs and a stay-in-school program. Their most common visitors are youth fleeing abusive homes, those who have spent a lot of time in the child welfare system and/or those who have experienced many forms of violence and poverty. The YWS youth also seek help to some of the issue they may face such as issues with immigration, substance use and abuse, mental illness, anger/behavioural problems, problems with the law, pregnancy as well as feelings of abandonment and trauma from abuse. All of them seek a better life and an environment that is safe and stable.

youth without shelter

Youth Without Shelter was founded in 1986 by a group of teachers and guidance counsellors who were unhappy with the low amount of safe, emergency housing and support programs that were offered to their students. Since its inception, YWS has assisted more than 14,000 homeless and at risk youth build their confidence and life-skills on a path to finding stable housing and jobs. YWS is open 24/7 and is determined to get youth off of the streets permanently by providing shelter and support programs in a safe environment.

I got to chat with YWS about their programs and the youth they serve.

How many in the stay in school program are living at the shelter? How many ages 16-19? And how many ages 20-24?

Youth Without Shelter’s Stay in School Program is a 20-bed residential program that addresses the many barriers homeless youth face in completing their education. Currently 40% of the youth residing in the program are 16 to 19 and 60% are between the ages 20 to 24.

Are the 33 beds for emergency shelter for youth part of these beds?

No. Youth Without Shelter’s Emergency Residential Program is a separate residential program under the same “roof” providing comprehensive care.

How many beds in total are at YWS for youth?

53 beds are available at YWS: 20 in the long-term Stay in School Program; and 33 in the Emergency Residential Program.

What happens when the beds are full and still people are left outside? How often does this happen?

If we are full we work with the youth and other youth shelters across the City of Toronto to secure a bed where available. If no beds are available at another youth shelter the youth is referred to the City of Toronto’s Referral Centre. If the youth has appeared at our door, we will support them with transit fare to travel to the alternate location where the bed has been secured.

Generally when a bed becomes available at YWS it is filled within the same day. Our occupancy for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016 was 96%.

How many youth attend YWS’ programs each year?

An estimated 1,000 youth will access YWS’s residential and after-care programs.

I saw that in 2015-16, 442 workshops were attended by 2283 students. How many youth take multiple workshops? Are you running at full capacity or is their space for more kids in some of the courses?

Steps to Success Program workshops support youth with the acquisition of life skills. These workshops are available both to youth residing at YWS and through our after-care program. Youth can attend multiple workshops; and involvement is guided by their case plan. Currently YWS is working with the youth to refocus this program.

What are the requirements of the Employment Program? How can we get more of the youth working? Government? Money? Volunteers?

The Employment Program at YWS is accessed through case plan goals by youth residing in the emergency and/or Stay in School Programs and after care services. The Employment Facilitator provides one on one assessments teaching the necessary skills to gain employment such as resume writing and interview skills. Connections to training programs, career shadowing and volunteer opportunities are also provided.

Homeless youth can face many barriers to employment including literacy, lack of education, legal issues, no stable address or housing, mental health, no identification and lack of financial resources to equip themselves for employment. Reducing unemployment for homeless youth requires a multi-pronged approach so that youth can be job ready including support to finish education; stable housing; access to healthy food; training; overall well-being; and have the stabilizing elements in their life to maintain employment.

What % of the total amount of youth that you see in a year that are unemployed?

Estimated 40%

What are your biggest challenges in operating and providing services?

    •   Lack of affordable and/or transitional housing for homeless youth to access to move to successful independent living.
    •   Estimated 40% of youth who access services are experiencing mental health issues. Lack of access to consistent, on-site mental health services and expertise.
    •   Focus on preventing youth homelessness in the first place. Through YWS’s strategic plan we are this year introducing two preventative strategies: A) implementation of a preventative strategy that educates youth and the community about the issue of youth homelessness. The core element of this strategy is the delivery and continued development from a preventative perspective of YWS’s educational outreach program to school aged youth. B) Expansion of aftercare support to facilitate successful independent living.
    •   From our executive director, Nilda Patey: “The challenge is staying ahead of the curve- inspiring innovation and creativity that complements our corporate partners, responds effectively to the changing needs of the young people supported by YWS programs and services and being good community builders. Youth homelessness is related to a range of risk factors and the complexity increases with overlap. Each young person is unique and so is their journey, we’re simply the quarterbacks helping them along the way.”Words from our youth: “ I believe you need to stick to what you want. I want school. I want to stay in school for my career. I have an apprenticeship already set-up through the employment program.” (Former YWS resident, now living independently)


How can our readers help?

    •   Learn more about youth homelessness. Reach out to YWS’s Community Engagement and Education Specialist ( or 416.748.0110 ext. 62) to book an educational workshop for your classroom/school, workplace and/or group.
    •   Make a financial gift to provide critical resources: or 416.748.0110 ext. 26
    •   Get involved: contact YWS’s Engagement Specialist at or 416.748.0110 ext. 39 to learn how individuals, companies, organizations and groups can volunteer.
    •   Put the “Good in good morning”: purchase tickets to Youth Without Shelter’s “A home for the holidays” breakfast, Wednesday, November 16, 7.30 am at the Cineplex Queensway: #ShareTheWarmth



For more information, visit the YWS website.



About Joel Levy 2575 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography