This is…Making the Shift: A Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab

Making the Shift
October 10, 2017

We believe we can prevent and end youth homelessness. To support this goal, the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab (MTS) was launched in April 2017 to build an evidence base on effective practices for Canada. Our aim is to learn from and support communities and policy-makers in shifting our national response to youth homelessness, from one that is over-reliant on shelters and emergency services, to one favouring prevention and Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) measures. MTS is a multi-year, collaborative effort that is funded by the Government of Canada’s Skills Link program (Employment and Social Development Canada).

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Our overall, long-term goal, is for young people to thrive – for each to be able to make healthy transitions to adulthood, strengthened by stable housing and desired supports (including family and/or other natural supports).  

Methodology

With the completion of the At Home/Chez Soi study, recently conducted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, research has already demonstrated the positive effects of the Pathways Housing First model for adults; however, those findings are inconclusive for youth. So, while international experience and limited community practice present some emerging evidence on the effectiveness of HF4Y, we need to know more – specifically about why and how this approach leads to better youth-specific outcomes. The same can be said for prevention program models. We need a strong evidence base, situated within the Canadian context, on specific, proven approaches to support young people to avert homelessness. This is where MTS comes in.   

Effective decision making requires a solid evidence base, which is why a long-term goal of MTS is to establish a strong evidence base for HF4Y and models of prevention in Canada. This base can then be used to inform public policy and investment. Working with community partners, MTS is launching demonstration projects in communities across Ontario and Alberta, while supporting each site with rigorous research and evaluation efforts. Demonstration projects enable us to determine whether or not a proposed policy or intervention works, by asking questions like: Does each project address the needs of those being served? What adaptations may be needed? What can other communities learn from these interventions? In these demonstration projects, each community site will have a specific focus, with a dedicated research and evaluation team to track the data and learning from program participants and community partners implementing the programs.

MTS Partnerships

MTS is a collaborative project. Here are the partners that make it happen, together:

  • A Way Home Canada (AWH) is a national coalition dedicated to preventing, reducing, and ending youth homelessness in Canada.

  • The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) is a non-profit and non-partisan research institute that is committed to finding solutions to homelessness.

  • MaRS Centre for Impact Investing is a leader of the growing impact investing market in Canada.

  • Provinces of Alberta and Ontario are provincial leaders in youth homelessness: Alberta has a 10-year plan to combat homelessness and is the first province to have a plan to prevent and reduce youth homelessness specifically; Ontario, meanwhile, has identified youth homelessness as a priority area for its multi-year homelessness strategy.

  • Community partners across Alberta and Ontario where youth-serving agencies have signed on to implement the demonstration projects. These and other community partners have also contributed to the ‘THIS is Housing First for Youth’ model program guide and the Family and Natural Supports Program Model Framework.

Phase One: Demonstration Projects

Due to its size and scale, MTS has been divided into phases. In Phase One (2017-2019), community demonstration projects implementing HF4Y, Family and Natural Supports Program models, and Youth Reconnect are starting up in 10 communities: Hamilton, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Grand Prairie, and Fort McMurray. Each community has youth-serving organizations that are committed to pilot testing these program models. Overall, more than 1,300 youth and their families will participate in the demonstration projects.

Hamilton, Toronto, and Ottawa will pilot test the HF4Y model with different areas of focus: in Hamilton, the project will focus on Indigenous-led care for Indigenous youth; in Toronto, the focus will be on youth exiting care; and in Ottawa, the project will work with youth currently experiencing homelessness.

The Family and Natural Supports Program projects will take place in several communities across Alberta and Ontario and will strive to show that early interventions have a positive impact on the lives of young people at-risk of, or experiencing homelessness. In addition, Hamilton will host a demonstration project on Youth Reconnect, another early intervention model supporting young people who, though not at home, are able to remain within their communities, supported by numerous other community connections.

Takeaways

The Making The Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab is taking a fresh approach to preventing and ending youth homelessness. Through working collaboratively, bringing practice, research and evaluation together, we are seeking to create an evidence base to inform future policies and programs. Simultaneously, we will develop resources and mobilize knowledge so that community partners across the country can access needed information to deliver effective support. We believe that if we work together, we can dramatically shift the way we address youth homelessness at the community, provincial, and national level.

Keep an eye out for more information on MTS’s next steps and the next installment of this blog series.

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The “THIS is…” blog series is a look into the concepts and ideas at the heart of the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab project. We will be adding new blogs to the series every month.

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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.