year of prevention

I had the privilege of spending some time over the holidays in sunny California. It was a fantastic trip for so many reasons, but one conversation I had with a young hair stylist in San Francisco really stands out – it was about my work on youth homelessness and prevention. She asked me about the causes and conditions of youth homelessness and then looked at me thoughtfully for a minute and said, “I know this might sound naive, but I guess I just don’t understand why we wouldn’t stop young people from becoming homeless in the first place.” Exactly. Why don’t we stop young people from becoming homeless in the first place?

January 2017 marks the beginning of the Year of Prevention. We are linking arms with A Way Home founding members the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness and Raising the Roof to shine the spotlight not only on the need to prevent all forms of homelessness, but examples of what that looks like at the levels of policy and practice. Though A Way Home’s efforts will hone in on youth homelessness prevention, there is so much to learn about homelessness prevention writ large and how some orders of government, communities and service providers are making headway on prevention.

So what are we planning? The foundation of our campaign is the forthcoming prevention framework in development by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. It will provide language for understanding what is homelessness prevention, what is NOT homelessness prevention, and why. Informed by experts, it will give us clear examples to use so we can elevate the dialogue on prevention and work across systems to begin shifting our efforts to prevention. Along with the framework, we are planning a series of webinars, policy briefs, and a robust public engagement and social media strategy on prevention. To start, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness will launch an online survey in February. It will provide an opportunity for service providers, researchers, policy makers and individuals with lived experience to share their perspectives on the role of prevention in our efforts to end homelessness.

Shifting efforts to prevention is hard work and involves an incredible amount of change management, so a lot of our campaign will focus on case studies of service providers and communities that have made the shift. I have learned so much from folks working on the ground to make this happen. One of my favourite stories is from Mike Lethby, Executive Director of The Raft in the Niagara Region. I don’t want to reveal too much as he’ll be featured in a webinar (sorry Mike, more work for you), but when Mike and The Raft began working upstream in rural communities and schools to identify young people at risk of homelessness and provide supports to them and their families to ensure housing stability, they almost had to shut down the organization, as their shelter beds were no longer full. Through some brilliant change management, The Raft came out the other side with a refocused mission on prevention and much better outcomes for young people – and isn’t that what we’re here for?

To circle back to my conversation in San Francisco about prevention – yes, it should be obvious, but sometimes the obvious evades us. So let’s work together to make 2017 go down in history as the year we stopped kicking at the tires of prevention, but instead got behind the wheel and hit the open road.

This post is part of a monthly series that follows A Way Home’s progress as we create real change on the issue of youth homelessness. On the second Wednesday of every month, join us for an update from A Way Home’s Executive Director, Melanie Redman.