We are so pleased to co-release The Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness (The Roadmap) with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. This monumental piece of work is the result of years of active collaboration with people with lived experience of youth homelessness, service providers, policy makers, funders and academics across Canada and around the world. With the announcement of the federal government’s Reaching Home program, the timing is critical to give communities as many tools as possible to reimagine their response to youth homelessness.

The Roadmap is part of our collaborative Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab project and is designed to help service providers, policy makers, communities, advocates, and researchers better understand the meaning of youth homelessness prevention through the provision of a clear definition and a common language for policy and practice. The Roadmap offers guidance on the following:

  • What is youth homelessness prevention, and what is it not?
  • Who is responsible for youth homelessness prevention?
  • What are systems approaches to prevention?
  • What program models and interventions exist?
  • What is the evidence for youth homelessness prevention?

As described, The Roadmap has been several years in the making. It builds on the definition and framework of homelessness prevention first presented in A New Direction: A Framework for Homelessness Prevention(Gaetz & Dej, 2017). The Roadmap is also the outcome of several years of scanning and reviewing domestic and international examples of prevention policy and practice. A literature review on youth homelessness prevention was conducted, examining peer-reviewed academic research and the grey literature, in order to assess the evidence base for prevention (see Preventing Youth Homelessness: An International Review of Evidence(Schwan et al., 2018b)). Most importantly, The Roadmap has been directly informed by consultations with people who have lived experience of youth homelessness across Canada. In order to reform our response to youth homelessness, it is critical that their insights and wisdom are the cornerstone of the work.

Does The Roadmap narrow the gap between our understanding of homelessness prevention and the implications for policy and systems planning? It MUST and here are three BIG reasons why:

  1. Age of first homelessness experience: Recent national Point In Time (PIT) count data demonstrates more than ever that we must prioritize youth homelessness and prevention. 57% of respondents identified that their first experience of homelessness was before their 25th birthday. This isn’t isolated data! Data pulled from the first Without a Home study (Gaetz, O’Grady, Kidd & Schwan, 2016) which is the largest research project on youth homelessness ever conducted in Canada (led by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada), aligns with the National PIT count data and we have no doubt that the results of 2nd National Survey on Youth Homelessnesswill further support this evidence base. This integrated data must drive us to transform the way we respond to youth homelessness. We must shift from managing the crisis and putting young people at great risk to an approach that focuses on the health and well-being of young people and assisting them to transition to adulthood in a safe and planned manner.
  1. Opportunities for Systems Planning: The best community plans are ‘systems plans’; ones which focus on systems integration in their design. Triage, systems navigation and case management depend on the presence of integrated systems at the local level. This means services (both mainstream and those supporting young people who are homeless) are connected and interface in a way that allows for seamless service delivery and rapid access. With Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, the Federal government has indicated its expectation that communities implement youth specific systems plans within their broader homelessness systems plans. The A Way Home: Youth Homelessness Community Planning Toolkit is an excellent resource to support communities in their efforts.

The community response to youth homelessness must be oriented to prevention, with higher levels of government providing the funding, policy and permission to innovate. The valuable skills of people in emergency services who have expertise working with youth can be redirected in a redesigned system to support housing led preventive efforts and early intervention.

  1. Policy development and sequencing: Policy development cycles within provincial/territorial and federal governments are ALWAYS in motion. The Roadmap can and should have a direct impact on early phases of policy development (Problem identification, Policy Analysis, Strategy and Policy Development) and reinforce areas of focus for Governments within how they approach the Stakeholder Engagement and Educationphase.

Included within the Roadmap are recommendations that cover federal and provincial/territorial areas for prioritization and improvement, key focus areas for community and the homeless serving sector and important recommended next steps for funders. While no one government or system has full autonomy to lead action in all of these areas, our recommendations reflect a comprehensive and collaborative approach to youth homelessness prevention in Canada. A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness are focused on accelerating policy development and sequencing on youth homelessness and the Roadmap clearly outlines areas of focus and prioritization.

Dear people with lived experience of youth homelessness – We hope The Roadmap honours everything you shared with us in our national consultation process leading up to the report What Would It Take: Youth Across Canada Speak Out on Youth Homelessness Prevention and that The Roadmap helps Canada make the shift to prevention.

Dear elected officials and policy makers – Drive towards alignment and prioritization of the actions within each typology identified within The Roadmap. This focus should include prevention based investments that follow a patient capital, patient investing, and a patient granting philosophy.

Dear community partners, stakeholders and the youth homelessness sector – Use these pieces and leverage relationships within all levels of government to influence not only systems integration, but enhanced or new policy and investment focused on youth homelessness prevention.

Dear funders – Take a leadership role in developing granting streams, increasing comfort levels and promoting flexibility that support activities across The Roadmap’s prevention continuum. This will that build a foundation for delivering and sustaining effective prevention based practice.

Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy has created the platform for change and that should instill confidence in communities wanting to make measurable, long-term impact on homelessness. The absolute only way we can achieve the Reaching Home target of a 50% reduction in chronic homelessness in the next 10 years, and ultimately push towards eliminating homelessness as we know it, is to move upstream and prevent youth homelessness before it begins or rapidly intervene to ensure a youth’s experience with homelessness is brief and nonrecurring.

Our duty as organizations, communities, provinces, territories and Canadians is to allow youth to reach their full potential and we can only do that if their foundation is rooted in housing stability and access to the supports they need to thrive!

Read the Roadmap Here