June 16, 2015
Taking on Youth Homelessness in Canada

Contrary to what you might think, the Canadian context is not that much different than the United States when it comes to complex social issues. Sure, we have different names for things and we tend to add the word ‘eh’ to the ends of sentences, but beyond that we have more in common than not. Given the recent important developments in the Washington state with the Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Act, we were invited to share some of our Canadian learnings and activities to prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness north of the border.

We distilled the Canadian context into five key shifts in how we think about and address youth homelessness.

  1. Shifting the focus from managing homelessness: Our response to youth homelessness and homelessness in general has historically been to invest heavily in emergency services with very little investment in prevention, housing and supports. Emergency services are critical, but we must shift our focus to working upstream to prevent youth homelessness, as well as providing appropriate housing and supports for youth if they find themselves homeless.

Government steps up: Youth homelessness is a fusion policy issue. Solving youth homelessness is not solely the responsibility of the homelessness sector. Government at all levels working in housing, child protection, juvenile justice, addictions, education and training, mental health and income supports must step up to the plate and own their role in solving youth homelessness.

  1. Addressing diversity: Youth that are homeless are disproportionately youth of color and youth identifying as LGBTQ. Our responses to youth homelessness must be tailored to meet the specific needs of young people and address the drivers of homelessness, such as racism and homophobia.
  2. Research: The role of research is to not only inform decision makers, but to get research-based tools and resources into the hands of communities and practitioners. In Canada, researchers and practitioners have co-developed a pan-Canadian youth homelessness research agenda. Our agenda includes:
    • Youth Point in Time Counts
    • Data Management Supports
    • Program Model Case Studies
    • Cost Effectiveness Study
    • Prevention Framework
    • New Research Questions
    • Knowledge Mobilization Strategy
  3. Supporting communities and government: Communities and government must be supported to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness. In Canada we have aligned our national organizations working on youth homelessness into a formal coalition dedicated to this work. A Way Home coalition has eight key constellations of collaborative activity to achieve our vision of ending youth homelessness in Canada, through supporting community planning, the adaptation of effective preventive programs, and working with government and funders to align policy, program and funding to support this innovative work at the community level.  Here are our key constellations of activity.

Melanie Redman is the Director of the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness in Canada. Stephen Gaetz is the Director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Homeless Hub. Together they are working with other national partners to lead A Way Home