I’m heading to Helsinki Monday night. Why Helsinki? Though I do enjoy the commitment to all things death metal, uncomfortable group spa trips with colleagues and the extreme cold, I’m actually heading there with Dr. Gaetz to learn from European colleagues and to contribute to a growing body of work concerning the Canadian-made Housing First for Youth model. (All kidding aside, Finland is a pretty fantastic place.)

Housing First can work for young people.

As an American in Canada, I’ve had years of practice in breaking open my thinking beyond national borders. Concerning my work in youth homelessness, I find it not only important but essential to look beyond Canada to innovative solutions in policy and practice globally for preventing and ending youth homelessness. Canadians also make important contributions to this body of work. The Housing First for Youth model is adapted from the adult Housing First model to meet the needs of developing adolescents. It was developed by our very own Dr. Stephen Gaetz in collaboration with youth with lived experience, the Hamilton Street Youth Planning Collaborative, and the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness. The model has taken root in countries around the world and the learnings from those implementing the model in various contexts are proving invaluable in evolving the model, and therefore enhancing the supports young people experience on the ground.

Another great example of making international engagement work for Canadian youth is The Upstream Project. Though I’ve written about it before, it’s one of the things I’m most proud to be a part of. Led by our friends at Raising the Roof in partnership with Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, A Way Home, the Push for Change and community partners The Raft and 360°kids, this model of school-based early identification and intervention could help to transform our response to youth homelessness in Canada. The Upstream Project is an adaptation of The Geelong Project in Australia. Our on-going collaboration with “the Australians” as we lovingly refer to the visionaries behind this project, has proven key to implementing the model in the Canadian context.

Recently, we were proud to host a delegation from Denmark that came to learn from our efforts to prevent and youth homelessness using the Collective Impact approach. They visited Calgary and Toronto to learn about innovative solutions at the policy and program levels that they can adapt in Denmark. As is the way with these types of exchanges, I think we learned more from them than they could possibly know. The great news is now we have established relationships with the Home for All Alliance and the Bikuben Foundation that will allow us to continue the shared learning. Catherine Donnelly Foundation also hosted a funder-to-funder event and dialogue concerning the role of philanthropy in this global movement.

I would also like to give a shout out to Canadian service providers, many of whom have program models that have been showcased and adapted internationally. Just the other day, Eva’s released an updated version of the Family Reconnect Toolkit that has supported communities internationally to do this important work. Our friends at Covenant House Toronto have shared their model for supporting young women who have experienced human trafficking. I met someone in the U.S. just last week, who said that their community was basing a lot of their work in this area on Covenant House’s toolkit. In a meeting with the E.U. Commission last year, Dr. Gaetz and I were asked to represent and discuss HireUp’s innovative work on youth homelessness and employment. One more example that is at the top of my mind lately is the approach that Winnipeg took concerning Indigenous leadership on developing a youth homelessness community plan. This is just a tiny sampling of the kinds of innovations that can, and in my experience will translate to many countries around the world.

I’ll close by saying that I feel completely honoured to engage internationally on behalf of A Way Home Canada in service of youth experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. Next up? I’m off to pack my Black Sabbath t-shirt and bathing costume for Finland.