While many students at U of T look forward to returning to their cozy homes to spend the holidays with their families, there is a significant population in Toronto who do not have a home to return to.
As of 2021, in Toronto there were an estimated 18,096 people experiencing homelessness and an additional 6,605 people experiencing sheltered homelessness. The City of Toronto, with roughly 100 shelters, is running the largest shelter system in Canada. However, one critical group affected by homelessness that is often overlooked is youth.
Homelessness and the youth
Many youth in Toronto are experiencing homelessness. In 2021, a staggering 11 per cent of Toronto’s homeless population were between the ages of 16 and 24. In 2019, 26 per cent of residents at the shelter Covenant House Toronto were students and half of that population were specifically university or college students.
What’s worse is that since 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in heightened economic inequality and a rise in the cost of living. For instance, compared to last year, the average cost of rent for a one-bedroom condo in Toronto has risen by 20.4 per cent. The harsh reality is that the Canadian economy is struggling to recover from the pandemic, and youth are among the most vulnerable populations during this struggle. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a homelessness crisis amongst youth.
In an article for the Financial Post, a U of T computer science student who resides in Horizons for Youth, a Toronto shelter for young adults, reported that he started living in the shelter when his dormitory access expired after his first year. He struggled with finding even a basement apartment or roommate that he could share the cost of rent with. Horizons for Youth is an hour from campus and so now he has to grapple with his schoolwork on top of commuting for an hour, all the while living in a state of homelessness.
The onus is on U of T to address student homelessness
Living in Toronto is not cheap. As such, when making the decision to attend U of T, many students often compromise financial security for the sake of attending a university internationally recognized for its excellence.
For a school that operates on a $3.23 billion budget, of which 68 per cent is from student fees, U of T needs to do better to help students grappling with homelessness. By not ensuring proper housing for financially disadvantaged students, U of T is actively building barriers to higher education.
In the long run, U of T needs to work harder to ensure accommodations for its students. In 2021, market research firm Bonard reported that there were almost 1.6 million post-secondary students in Canada, but only 200,000 beds in purpose-built student accommodations.
The lack of student housing on campus leads many students to seek out off-campus housing. However, with the higher-than-ever rent prices in Toronto and competition with families and professionals, students struggle to find affordable housing. This ultimately leaves many students homeless.
I believe that students have the right to be educated at an academically rich public university like U of T, but I also believe that students have the right to be provided financially reasonable options of residence.
U of T can do more to work with the City of Toronto to ensure that its students are not struggling to secure housing. The average student at U of T is already spending a significant amount in tuition and fees. By not helping its financially disadvantaged students secure housing, U of T is contributing to the homelessness crisis in Toronto.
Eleanor Park is a second-year student at Trinity College studying English and religion. She is an associate comment editor at The Varsity.