Trent Graduate Explores Increasing Odds of Homeless Youth Completing Education

Housing instability as teen fuels woman to dig into systemic issues

From curling up on friends’ couches to other on-the-fly sleeping arrangements, being homeless and attending high school had its challenges for Jayne Malenfant.

After leaving home in Saskatoon and being expelled from high school at age 16, Jayne moved from one temporary abode to another.

“I don’t think I realized how precarious I was until after,” Jayne tells Electric City Magazine.

“If I want to stay in academia, I feel I must do research that will contribute to making things better for youth who might experience what me and my friends did…”

“I felt that my school didn’t care about me so I didn’t want to depend on them or engage with them. I felt like most of my friends were far more unstable and I had to try to take care of people.”

Fast-forward to today, Jayne completed high school, graduated from Trent University, is a doctoral student in the Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University and the recipient of a 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholarship.

She is also co-researcher, along with Dr. Naomi Elizabeth Nichols, on a project exploring the challenges and opportunities for youth who are homeless and trying to complete high school.

“This has been a priority because I haven’t seen that much change since I was a kid, I would even say that things are worse now and harder for youth than they were 10 years ago,” Jayne says.

“If I want to stay in academia, I feel I must do research that will contribute to making things better for youth who might experience what me and my friends did, and so many young people do in Canada, and research needs to be relevant in the lives of real people.”

The researchers’ blog post illuminates what a typical school day would be like for a teen who is homeless.

“Imagine what a typical day would be like, if you are at school with an empty stomach or having spent the night before sleeping outside, in an ATM vestibule, your car, on a friend’s couch or a parking garage. What if you didn’t sleep at all because you didn’t feel safe or couldn’t get warm? Imagine how hard it is to stay awake in class the next afternoon — the safest and warmest place to take care of your body’s need for sleep — and how you feel when your teacher interprets this as a sign of disrespect, and you are reprimanded for falling asleep.”

Malenfant-Jayne-HS

Jayne Malenfant

Jayne says for students who are experiencing homelessness or housing precarity, these are common realities. “And this reality makes it extraordinarily difficult for young people to maintain positive and meaningful connections to school.”

Twenty per cent of Canada’s homeless population is made up of young people between the ages of 13-24, with at least 35,000-40,000 youth experiencing homelessness in any given year.

The inability to effectively address youth homelessness represents Canada’s most urgent youth equity issue, the researchers say.

Beyond housing, enabling strong and meaningful connections to school is one of the most efficient and effective interventions to ensure young people are integrated in and contribute to their communities and experience a sense of purposefulness and wellbeing throughout adulthood, they add.

To read more about the research findings, click here.

  • More to Come

To learn more about this research and initiatives in Peterborough to address youth homeless and education keep visiting www.electriccitymagazine.com or join our mailing list.

Lead image from Pixabay.

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