Over the summer of 2018, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) and A Way Home Canada (AWH) conducted an international scan of policies and practices that are contributing to youth homelessness prevention (the Evidence Scan). The Wales Centre for Public Policy commissioned this report for Public Policy, under the direction of the First Minister of Wales. Drawing together a extensive literature review, review of the grey literature, and consultation with international experts, this report explores:
- Which policies and programs are effective in preventing youth homelessness?
- What are the characteristics of effective strategies to prevent youth homelessness?
- What evidence is still needed to support the prevention of youth homelessness, and how might it be generated.
The report captures a careful assessment of this evidence base to develop a set of recommendations to divert young people from experiences of homelessness effectively.
Recently, Dr. Kaitlin Schwan and I represented COH & AWHC in Wales to not only present the findings of the report but dig deep with community partners, service providers, key leaders and engage senior leaders within Government. The day before our visit, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration, Rebecca Evans AM, made a significant announcement (video clip from the Welsh Assembly): Moving forward, £10 million in funding will be devoted in the next fiscal year to specifically address youth homelessness. Her speech details the report, specific prevention typologies and program/practice examples that helped build the foundation for the additional investment. A breakdown of the investment is as follows:
- £3.7 million will be allocated to strengthen existing systems and services;
- £4.8 million will be devoted to the establishment of a brand new innovation fund to develop suitable housing and support options for young people;
- £1 million will be allocated to strengthening the availability of direct financial support for care leavers to support them to transition to and sustain independent living and help prevent them falling into homelessness;
- £0.25 million will be targeted for communications and engagement work; and
- £0.25 million will be for tenancy support work to ensure young people have wide access to information, advice and support services.
The impact of this work with Welsh community leaders, the research community and government officials has left both COH and AWH feeling validated, inspired and even more focused on the necessary youth homelessness prevention mandate for Canada. This example of bridging research and action has left us with important questions:
- What role did the report play in solidifying the investment by the Welsh Government?
- What other pieces were already in place that were supported by the Evidence Scan report?
- How can this experience and exercise be replicated in other communities and jurisdictions?
- What can we learn from the bold and decisive policy response by the Welsh Government to prioritize youth homelessness prevention?
With the release of the Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness (the Roadmap), Canada and Wales are set to chart similar courses with respect to youth homelessness prevention and we have a lot to learn from each other. We have identified 6 key learning priorities moving forward:
- Cross government action – While no one government has full autonomy or responsibility to lead action in all of these areas within the Evidence Scan and the Roadmap , our recommendations reflect a comprehensive and collaborative approach to youth homelessness prevention. In Canada, we have already seen the Federal Government, with the announcement of Reaching Home, make a commitment to homelessness prevention. We must continue to work with all levels of government to ensure they not only understand their role within homelessness prevention but act on it.
- Re-tooling the approach – We must continue to work with governments to amend existing policies and practices across government to ensure that the intervention of public systems does not create or foster housing precarity for young people or their families. Coupled with that, we must encourage them to develop a flexible and sustainable funding model that can advance programme interventions that respond well before a young person experiences homelessness, and ensure youth exit from homelessness as rapidly as possible.
- Move upstream – We must prioritize school-based prevention interventions that are particularly focused on preventing youth homelessness. These interventions must be youth-centred, family-focused, and grounded in community-based partnerships across social services, healthcare, and education. This work will be bolstered by the Upstream International Living Lab (UILL) – an international social research and development consortium focused on the design, implementation, and study of programme and policy interventions that foster systems change resulting in the prevention of youth homelessness. The core of this work is to facilitate the adaptation and implementation of the The Geelong Project model within each of the countries participating in the consortium.
- Demonstrate the flexibility of HF4Y – As a rights-based intervention for youth who are experiencing, or at risk of homelessness, HF4Y is proving its flexibility. We are seeing HF4Y applied in many contexts and regions. HF4Y provides immediate access to appropriate housing, as well as the necessary supports youth need to focus on outcomes such as wellness, social inclusion, education and employment. As Making the Shift continues to build the evidence for prevention interventions and HF4Y, these learnings will inform application of these models in other contexts and accelerate our understanding of their flexibility when applied.
- Youth-specific assessment – As systems are integrated, it is suggested that a youth-focused, cross-systems assessment and screening tool is adopted. The tool should identify, assess, and respond to the needs of youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness by:
- Prioritizing youth separately from adult prioritization within coordinated entry and collaborative planning tables to ensure timely interventions for youth; and
- Using this tool to identify youth at risk of homelessness early, thus providing the opportunity to intervene before a young person or their family become homeless.
The Youth Assessment and Prioritization (YAP) Tool can provide communities in Canada and in Wales with the opportunity to more effectively identify and determine needs of youth at risk of homelessness or experiencing homelessness. YAP is an innovation in helping a youth homelessness program or system of care to gain a greater understanding of a where a youth who is homeless or at risk of homelessness is on the road to experiencing long term homelessness.
6. Duty to Assist – As the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada work to advocate for Duty to Assist, the success of the model in Wales will continue to be leveraged. A Duty to Assist means there is a statutory obligation, or a legal duty, requiring local authorities make reasonable efforts to end an individual’s homelessness or stabilize their housing. Adapting legislation and practice originating from Wales, this innovation can be used to move us closer to preventing and ending youth homelessness. How a Duty to Assist translates for Canadian communities and the learnings from its implementation in Wales can be critical in steps moving forward.
To bring prevention to life, each sector, order of government, community, practitioner, and caring individual must make the commitment to wholeheartedly and relentlessly pursue this new vision. We must align our collective strengths, knowledge, and resources to move from vision to reality. In the words of Frances Beecher, CEO of Llamau, “It’s up to us to make things easier… we must break down those barriers”.
We will be sure to cultivate the partnership between Wales and Canada as we are stronger together!