In this blog, the Upstream Kelowna initiative developed by BGC Okanagan (formerly known as Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs) ​​will be unpacked. You will learn what the initiative is, why it was developed, how it fills the gaps in preventing youth homelessness and much more. This blog was created based on an interview with CEO, Jeremy Welder and Upstream Coordinator, Philippa Putiltz.

Upstream Kelowna was recently selected as the winner of the first annual Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards in the program initiatives category.

About the initiative:

Upstream Kelowna is a local adaptation of Upstream Canada, an early intervention strategy to prevent youth homelessness and school disengagement. It uses a universal screening tool to identify school-aged youth who may be at-risk before a crisis hits. Upstream Kelowna assesses student risk factors through a ‘Student Needs Assessment’. This intervention identifies risk among students and provides supports for youth at-risk as well as their families and natural supports to reduce their risk of experiencing homelessness.


The staff at BGC Okanagan are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to fill the gaps in the services and supports available within their community. Sarah Mackinnon, Regional Director for Youth Services at BGC Okanagan, attended a national conference a couple of years ago. At the conference, she saw a presentation on Upstream Canada and could immediately see how the program would benefit her community. She spoke with the presenters and asked them what was needed for BGC Okanagan to bring Upstream to Kelowna. Through the insight from the presenters and by working with other local organizations implementing initiatives to address youth homelessness, the BGC Okanagan began piloting Upstream in Kelowna.

Journey Home and the City of Kelowna had a community design lab where we brought several community agencies together that work with high-risk individuals that might be [experiencing homelessness or] at-risk of experiencing homelessness, and through that, they actually identified that Upstream should be one of Kelowna’s top 10 strategies to end or address homelessness within our community.” – Philippa Putlitz

Benefits of Partnership and Collaboration:

BGC Okanagan believes that it takes a community in order for an initiative like Upstream Kelowna to be successful. As Jeremy Welder stated during the interview, “Especially with programs that don’t necessarily come with initial funding, being able to harness the expertise and experience of your community partners is essential.” BGC Okanagan attributes their success in getting the initiative started to the fact that they let their community partner organizations contribute in the areas where they had previous knowledge and expertise.

“If everyone feels that they have a stake in the project, and they can see the direct impact as we move forward…We know that we have a much better chance at survival and having a greater scale impact in the long term.” – Philippa Putlitz

Lessons Learned:

One of the key takeaways for BGC Okanagan was that timing is crucial to the success of an initiative. When Upstream Kelowna began there was already work being done in the community with A Way Home Kelowna and Journey Home to prevent youth homelessness. Part of the success of Upstream Kelowna can be attributed to the fact that there was already an appetite for an initiative of this kind.

Another key takeaway is that taking a collective impact approach is essential. When approaching a new initiative it’s important to begin with the understanding that the homeless-serving sector is all just trying to “put out fires”. People in the sector need to support each other because this is the only way to decrease the social burden of care across sectors. There will always be barriers and challenges when creating a new initiative but the key is to work with others within and outside of the sector to solve these problems.

Community Impact of Initiative:

There were two stories that Philippa shared during the interview that explained the impact of this work on the community. The first story she shared was about one of the young people who made use of this intervention. This story took place before BGC Okanagan was able to administer the student needs assessment at the first school.

“We built strong enough relationships with that first school that they knew that they could reach out…to ask for support. They had a young person identify as currently homeless. Her and her mother were struggling, and they didn’t know what to do or what resources to reach out to and they realised that this was an immediate crisis that needed support. So, I asked for permission..from the family to share the details of their case file [with] our partners and through that, I was able to pull in two or three case managers with experience related to their file and put them into a case management meeting with the family.. we were able to immediately strategize a plan… and they were housed within a week.”

The second story that Philippa shared was about another youth which she helped through Upstream Kelowna. This child was part of a family who had recently immigrated and was struggling to keep their children engaged in school. Her approach focused on both the family as a unit and the child at-risk. To help the family as a whole, she connected them with a local food bank which provided them with weekly food hampers and monthly clothing vouchers. She also assisted the family with getting extra subsidies to help them afford their rent. As for her support for the child, she worked with community supporters to connect and fund the children’s extracurricular activities to support the building of resiliency and the financial stability of their home. It was a huge success for Upstream Kelowna to see their community work so far upstream to prevent youth homelessness.

Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards:

This year marked the launch of the first annual Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards Program. The Awards are sponsored by Canada Life and co-led by A Way Home Canada and the COH. They were created to celebrate the important work happening to prevent youth homelessness in Canada. This year, we presented two awards – one in the collaboration category and one in the program initiatives category.

Note: This blog post is part of a blog series that highlights the winners of the MtS Youth Prevention Award Winners. To learn about the award winner in the collaboration category, read our blog here.