When I first started at A Way Home Canada, one of the areas I found most exciting was our work with the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness. The Learning Community is a pan-Canadian community consisting of leading youth-serving organizations across the country who work collaboratively on key issues, share emerging and promising practices, and develop strategies and tools to strengthen our sector and work towards preventing and ending youth homelessness in Canada.

The Learning Community is working to achieve a reduction in the length of time that youth experience homelessness through prevention programs and improved practices and policies. The primary focus is to increase the capacity of our sector to improve how we manage youth homelessness at the organization and local community levels. This is done through the following three areas of work:

1. Active community of practice

2. Youth Voice

3. Informing the national policy agenda

I was thrilled to be part of the annual in-person Learning Community meeting this past May in Calgary. We spent three days discussing emerging issues in the sector, affirming our strategic priorities (housing, Indigenous youth, prevention and youth voice), and designing our work plan for 2018-19.

At our 2017 in-person meeting, we finalized our Theory of Change model. We began our meeting this year discussing our process for measuring our success. Our main question was: Are we completing tasks based on our priorities?

The Learning Community is dedicated to creating inclusive spaces for young people and staff. A few years ago, the group designed its LGBTQ2S Toolkit (an online resource that supports service providers to better support LGBTQ2S young people). Currently, our focus is creating culturally safe places for Indigenous young people. At this year’s meeting, Nikketa Campbell and Kelly Holmes from Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY) in Winnipeg facilitated a session on the work done at RaY to ensure that staff and their programming are culturally inclusive. They provided us with some important calls to action, including: speaking about racism and stereotyping when we see it happening at our organizations, examining where and why cultural harm occurs, and consistently reflecting on workplace culture. We all have much work to do, but I encourage you to consider how you can start implementing these calls to action yourself, wherever you may work.

Another main topic of discussion was the Opioid Crisis and where communities need the most support. Prior to the in-person meeting, the group had several discussions about the issue. The discussion in Calgary focused on three themes: resources (what resources are needed and what resources are available); staff safety; and crisis response protocols. This year we will continue to work through these themes, with the guidance of the Learning Community’s Leadership Team.

There were also presentations on the amazing shelter diversion work happening in the Cambridge/Waterloo area by Argus. Afterwards, we had a presentation about the HelpSeeker App (dubbed Yelp for social services!). Finally, we spent an afternoon learning about how to impact policy within our communities across Canada, and heard more about the incredible work being done to prevent and end youth homelessness at Boys and Girls Club Calgary (the folks who generously hosted our meeting this year).

On the last day, we identified key areas of work for us to dedicate efforts to throughout the next year with Indigenous youth in housing, in prevention, and with youth voice.

As you can see, it was a jam-packed three days. And though we spent time celebrating what the Learning Community has been able to achieve as a group over the past year, we all left recognizing that there is still so much work to be done improving practices and policies to reduce the length of time youth may experience homelessness in Canada.

Personally, I am looking forward to seeing all that the Learning Community does this year! If you are doing exciting work in youth homelessness and would like to get your organization involved with the Learning Community, please check out our General Membership page and sign up for more information here.