Today, A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness are releasing a revised version of our federal youth homelessness policy brief. Opportunities to influence public policy and investment concerning youth homelessness abound.

As described in previous blog posts, A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness take a “solutions-focused advocacy” approach to working with government. This approach necessitates a rich process of engagement that foregrounds youth with lived experience and other key stakeholders, both within and outside of government. It means mining innovations in both policy and practice from around the world, as well as here at home. Most importantly, it is an exercise in deep listening that enables us to craft a vision for our collective role in preventing and ending youth homelessness. We believe that the Government of Canada, through the renewal of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS), has an opportunity to play a leadership role on the issue of youth homelessness. This policy brief provides a roadmap for the Government of Canada to follow.

If you’ll recall, we released a policy brief in April, 2016 that focused on translating the recently-announced investment in youth homelessness in the U.S. to the Canadian context. At that time, we noted that over the past 16 years, the Government of Canada, through its National Homelessness Initiative and the HPS, has actively supported communities across the country to address homelessness. While many communities have used part of their federal investment to support youth-focused programs and services, there has not been a strategic focus on youth homelessness since the early years of the program.

Opportunity Knocks

We believe that the time is NOW for the Government of Canada to make Canada’s most vulnerable youth a national priority, and that the process they are currently engaged in with the renewal of the HPS provides a rare opportunity to do just that.
Key components of our federal policy brief refresh include recommendations that expand and enhance HPS with a core component of the strategy focusing on supporting Housing First for Youth and youth homelessness prevention through community systems planning. Youth under the age of 25 require programs and services that address their unique developmental needs and issues. Additionally, the brief outlines that the resources provided at the federal level need to be flexible, meaningful, and timely to be client-driven and meet each young person’s needs within their local context.

Some key points include:
– Priority must be given to prevention programs that divert and keep young people out of shelters and provide them with appropriate and adequate supports. Youth-specific prevention programs focus upstream to intervene well before a youth becomes homeless.

– Without proper exit planning and supports, youth leaving corrections, physical/ mental health, and child welfare systems may also find themselves without a home.

– Adapting Housing First to the needs of youth is critical for their housing success and a healthy transition to adulthood.

The vision of a distinct, youth-focused funding stream through the HPS focuses on four strategies:

Community Planning and Systems Coordination

HPS designated communities must begin to align and organize themselves around the issue of youth homelessness. Communities can’t simply respond to youth homelessness in the same way they respond to homelessness in general. An integrated response to youth engages child welfare, youth justice systems, education and income supports systems which means designated communities must leverage different stakeholders.

Program Interventions

Central to the HPS renewal should be program models that will enable communities to make the shift to an approach that focuses more on prevention and helping young people exit homelessness. The proposed program interventions are based on research from Canada and elsewhere in the world (the U.S., UK, Australia and Scotland in particular). Many of these program models have a strong evidence base, while others are promising practices. These models can be applied in urban, suburban, rural and remote communities.

Governance and Structure

Federal leadership, direction and investment on the issue of youth homelessness can yield significant policy and practice changes provincially and territorially. This will create the context for greater alignment of policy and funding, sharing of practices and creating a pan-Canadian strategy. The goal of an Federal/Provincial/Territorial (FPT) Youth Homelessness Committee would be to align mandates across all provinces to promote increased focus and a more integrated response to youth homelessness and collaborate/support initiatives that contribute to the renewed HPS youth specific outcomes, performance measures and data demographics. In addition the FPT Committee would strengthen the ability of existing systems to intervene in a rapid, coordinated manner before youth become entrenched in a homeless lifestyle and bring government and community stakeholders together to support and enable community-driven responses and client-centered approaches to addressing homelessness.

Data Collection and Research

We have a significant opportunity to resolve the information gaps that currently make it challenging to understand and address youth homelessness. Better data and information on the issue of youth homelessness in Canada is a priority, as is evaluating methods of effective implementation, and the effectiveness of services and systems. Improving the collection of information will allow us to better respond to the following questions:

What are effective strategies for implementing and scaling evidence based and supported interventions for homeless youth?

What systems would support the implementation of common databases and metrics to enhance evaluation efforts nationally?

What is the composition and size of the homeless youth population in Canada?

As we’ve shown with the success of A Way Home Canada and the emergence of A Way Home coalitions in countries and communities around the world, Canada can be a world leader concerning youth homelessness. Most importantly, Canada can help ensure that every young person has the support they need to have a healthy transition to adulthood and the opportunity to reach their full potential.

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