A Review on “Precarious Lives: A Critical Examination of Homeless Youth Transitions to Independent Housing” by Naomi Thulien
Written by: Lauren Anderson
Edited by: Jacqueline Cheung
Dear CCP Readers,
Our next couple of posts of the CCP blog will be reviewing various aspects of Naomi Thulien’s 2017 thesis paper on the lives of homeless youth and the various implications of the welfare system and why youth experiencing homelessness have difficulty transitioning out of homelessness as adults. Over the next month, our team aims to highlight Thulien’s incredible research study, as it reveals many truths regarding the reality of homelessness for youth in Canada. For her thesis, “Precarious Lives: A Critical Examination of Homeless Youth Transitions to Independent Housing,” Naomi Thulien conducted her own research study with nine study participants, between the ages 16-24 at the beginning of the study, and those who were transitioning into independent housing.
In this blog post, we aim to focus on the socioeconomic system within our society, and more specifically, “classism,” or the inadvertent use of class ideology. The CCP wants to encourage and inspire youth by helping educate them on both careers and community change. We find value in filling the gaps of our societal system, especially, educational disparities that underprivileged youth face.
If you would like to learn more information regarding the current state of homelessness in Canada and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), welcome! If you are returning for more information about the particular challenges faced by youth experiencing homelessness and those with animal companions, welcome back! If you are new to our blog, welcome to the community and thank you for your interest in learning more about issues regarding the homelessness crisis in Canada and beyond - you are one step closer to becoming a changemaker in your community, and you are in great company.
One’s socioeconomic status has become a determinant of someone’s prospects of life including many factors: their health, career, family, and housing situation. In society, usually there are defined and undefined ways of identifying different social and economic classes. In Canada, there are three main classes: the owning class, middle class, and traditional working class. From a sociological point of view, it is possible for people to transition between classes, but it is difficult for those who are in the lowest class to shift upwards.
Canada defines the poverty line as an annual income below 12,880 CAD. In Ontario specifically, the poverty line is an annual income below 19,930 CAD. Thulien’s study subjects were all living below Canada’s low-income cut-off with a range of salaries from 7,872-19,200 CAD (Thulien). Of these nine participants, only one of them was employed, and none of the participants who were reliant on welfare benefits at the baseline interview were able to gain stable employment during the 6–9-month research study (Thulien). Thulien discusses how those living below the poverty line are often stuck in poverty due to a lack of financial resources available to higher class levels. These resources make it more plausible for social mobility within our societal system, and the lack of them further create the case of poverty entrapment for those living under the poverty line in Canada.
The Child Welfare System
Another important aspect of Thulien’s study was child welfare involvement. The child welfare system in Canada is different from many other affluent countries, including the United States, because it has no federal oversight. The Canadian government looks to each province to create their own child welfare system. Although there is no federal oversight, Canada is committed to protecting children nationwide. One example of this is universal medical care for all children and the general concept of protecting children from abuse and maltreatment (Gough). The focus of Thulien’s study is to better understand the challenges faced by homeless youth as they transition to independent housing outside of the system or sheltered living. Thulien cites the Evenson study that studied 689 homeless youth from various cities in Canada and found that 68% of the participants came from foster care, group homes, or youth centers (Evenson; Thulien). A major conclusion of Thulien’s thesis is that many youths who grew up within the child welfare system were later homeless and stuck below the poverty line. She also explains how other longitudinal studies that studied youth leaving foster care, showed that 31%-46% of young people experience homelessness at least once by the age of 26 (Thulien). There is a pattern of oppression that derives from the structure of our class system. Some of the reasons Thulien discovered in her literature review for this cycle of poverty are the following:
Youth leaving the welfare system before the age of 21.
A failure to help youth deal with trauma they might have experienced while living at home.
Inadequate preparation for adulthood including education and life skills understanding.
Each of these reasons are valid and are something that we at the CCP aim to better understand and educate our readers on, so that we can better approach providing services for youth experiencing homelessness in our area.
The Power of Classism
Classism can be defined as “a belief that a person’s social or economic station in society determines their value in that society” and “behavior that reflects this belief: prejudice or discrimination based on class.” There is power in individuals and common societal beliefs that enforce this class ideology that some are better than others because of their position in society. The more powerful groups that are able to enforce this ideology are those in the owning class (upper class) and those in the middle class (Thulien). Society has allowed these classes to define the lower class, which invokes challenges for potential upward mobility.
Thulien explains the “drastic income and wealth disparity” between the nine study participants and the rest of residents living in Toronto. There are many parts of her experiences and interviews she has with the participants where she is even shocked at how the participants live. There is a clear and stark depiction of how those who live in the lower classes due comparatively to those with financial resources in the upper classes. In one of Thulien’s interviews with Ashley, the one study participant who was employed throughout the study, Ashley explains how she is able to visualize the class gap between her and others in society frequently. When asked by Thulien about how she feels seeing these successful people in public, she explains,
“I feel like it’s not fair because…I’m…I have to work harder to be able to have fun and
they can just easily, like…, going out drinking after work, or like, people my age that
they’re working and they’re going to school, but at the same time they have all this
money, you know?...I just feel sometimes you know, I just feel like really…I don’t
know… I guess you can say jealous, but I wouldn’t put it like that, I would just say, it’s
not fair that I have to struggle…” (Thulien).
For those of us who might have the privileges Ashley outlined in this response, we might forget to be gracious for the resources we enjoy on a daily basis. Ashley had the highest socioeconomic status of all the other study participants, but still expresses throughout the study her fight to survive and even feed herself. Thulien also discusses the power of a social network and how those in lower socioeconomic classes are often not closely connected with those in higher classes, which means they do not have access to help that could help them “get ahead” in society (Thulien).
In pop culture, there is often discussion of people who are nepotism babies. Nepotism is “the act of using your power or influence to get good jobs or unfair advantages for members of your own family.” This concept is often used when referring to children of celebrities, who then become celebrities, but this concept can be applied to many fields of study and careers. Similar ideas include building a network while receiving a degree from a 4-year institution. Although some members of higher classes might not have family members who can put their foot in the door at good jobs, having access to higher education is another luxury that is often taken for granted. This luxury is one that is not available for those living beneath the poverty line, causing a huge disparity between classes.
Youth experiencing homelessness and those who are transitioning to independent housing are prone to the inability of achieving meaningful social integration due to classism and structural determinants that work against them.
How Can We Help?
We agree with Thulien that the structure of our society leads to extreme challenges for youth experiencing homelessness to progress in society as working citizens due to the structure’s oppressive nature. Some of these challenges relate to food security, physical and mental health, opportunities for stable employment, and active socialization (Thulien). We at the Canadian Courage Project believe that each of these areas can be addressed to better equip our youth. Our team hopes to both educate society on these issues to destigmatize the backgrounds of homeless youth and to educate youth on career development. Through this, our team hopes to help break the cycle of poverty that youth in our society face. Our career workshops educate youth on the UN’s sustainable development goals and open their eyes to different careers. Our goal is to inspire youth to believe their future goals are attainable, and also teach them how to reach those goals.
Thank you for reading our blog! Feel free to leave a comment with your feedback and/or insights to help us enrich the quality of future posts and cater to the interests of our community of changemakers.
The CCP Team
Evenson, J. (2009). Youth homelessness in Canada: The road to solutions. Toronto, ON: Raising the Roof. Retrieved from http://raisingtheroof.org/RaisingTheRoof/media/RaisingTheRoofMedia/Documen ts/RoadtoSolutions_fullrept_english.pdf
Gough, P., Dudding, P., & Schlonsky, A. (2009). An Overview of the Child Welfare Systems in Canada. International Journal of Child Health and Human Development, 2(3), 357–372.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Classism definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved November 20, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/classism
Nepotism. Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2022, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/nepotism
Team, A. C., Team, C., *, N., Mohammadhassan.hemmati, & MohammadAmini, S. (2022, July 26). Poverty in Canada; how many Canadians are considered poor? A look into poverty line in Canada and other stats! canadaya. Retrieved November 20, 2022, from https://wp172134.wpdns.ca/poverty-in-canada/#:~:text=Furthermore%2C%203.0%25%20of%20Canadians%20live%20in%20deep%20poverty,however%2C%20can%20live%20off%2026%2C500%20CAD%20each%20year.
Thulien, N. (2017). Precarious Lives: A Critical Examination of Homeless Youth Transitions to Independent Housing (thesis).
Vyain, S., Scaramuzzo, G., Cody-Rydzewski, S., Griffiths, H., Strayer, E., Keirns, N., McGivern, R., Little, W., & Little, W. (2014, November 6). Chapter 9. social stratification in Canada. Introduction to Sociology 1st Canadian Edition. Retrieved November 20, 2022, from https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontosociology/chapter/chapter9-social-stratification-in-the-united-states/#:~:text=There%20are%20three%20main%20classes%20in%20Canada%3A%20the,behaviours%2C%20customs%2C%20and%20norms%20that%20define%20each%20class.