Sarah Buhler, associate professor at USask’s College of Law, received the research grant from Making the Shift, an organization that funds research to prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada. It is co-led by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada.
“Our project really focuses on the law and the legal system, and ways that we might be able to prevent evictions of youth, because evictions are one cause of homelessness,” Buhler said.
She said the project, titled Building a Human Rights and Youth-Centred Approach to Eviction Law and Practice, is national in scope and still in its formative stages. It is being done in collaboration with two national housing rights organizations: the National Right to Housing Network and the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights.
The project will end up capturing both youth, aged up to 24 living on their own, and those children and youth who are part of a family unit dealing with eviction, she said.
“We’re going to be looking at the concept of the best interest of the child and the human rights of children and youth, so it’s going to end up capturing children, youth and families,” Buhler said. “If we can find strategies to reduce evictions of youth, we are going to also prevent evictions of other people.”
In Canada, children and youth experience eviction from rental housing at higher rates than most other age groups, Buhler said. Research shows that youth often are not aware of how the legal process works, or their rights, she said.
“If they get an eviction notice, they often will simply move out rather than thinking about whether they have other options.”
Eviction is particularly damaging for youth because of its long-term consequences, increasing their risks of getting embroiled in the legal system or other problematic areas, she said.
Eviction into homelessness also violates international human rights law, yet Canadian eviction laws do not reflect human rights obligations or account for the unique experiences and vulnerabilities of youth. Instead, tribunals established to resolve landlord-tenant disputes too often resort to evictions, rather than exploring other options, she said.
Buhler said many landlords would rather not resort to eviction, so working with them on eviction-prevention programs is important.
When the project is up and running, it will include national workshops involving youth, service providers, and advocates.
“Our focus is going to be specifically on the law and the legal system and looking at actual eviction proceedings and thinking about what are the principles, and how can adjudicators think more about the circumstances and the rights of youth.”