Let's do things differently! ‘A Way Home’ and the promise of ending youth homelessness

York University
October 22, 2015

I’m very excited. What has me excited is the launch of A Way Home, a new national coalition in Canada that will focus on bringing together national, regional and local players with the single focus of preventing, reducing and ending youth homelessness. You see, youth homelessness is a problem we have been tackling in Canada for a long time, but it is hard to say we have made a lot of progress. Some communities have responded to the rise in youth homelessness by providing necessary emergency services – like youth shelters, day programs, employment programs and soup kitchens, for instance. Other communities have responded in a more negative way by using law enforcement to address the money making activities of young people, such as begging or squeegeeing. Still many more have done hardly anything at all – and in those cases, young people who can no longer stay at home have few options. Many will eventually leave town, move to the Big City, and the downward spiral will continue.

In wealthy, so-called caring society this is not good enough. No where near. While we will always need emergency services, we need to do much more. We need to reimagine our response to youth homelessness and move towards a more integrated strategy that shifts the focus to prevention on the one hand, and moving young people who experience homelessness OUT of homelessness as quickly as possible, on the other.

And that is why I am excited about A Way Home. This new coalition promises to help communities across Canada to make the shift to drastically reducing the likelihood that any young person ever becomes homeless (through prevention), and for those that do, to help them move out of homelessness as quickly as possible.

How will this get done? As a coalition, A Way Home brings together the talent, expertise and enthusiasm of national organizations such as Raising the Roof, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, Egale Canada, and the National Learning Community on Youth Homeless. Funders with great forsight such as the Catherine Donnelly Foundation and Home Depot of Canada Foundation are at the table to support this work. Using a Collective Impact approach, the coalition members – and many other partners including government, private funders and foundations, and other interested groups – put aside differences to contribute what they can to this task.

A constellation of activities to get the job done has been designed that will enable communities and government to move towards real solutions in a timely manner.

A Way Home will support communities to plan and implement strategies to address youth homelessness. This means intensive help on planning, and technical support on implementation. It also means supporting an effective ‘community of practice’ so communities can learn from each other about what works, how to work collaboratively, and how to create the conditions for change.

A Way Home will provide communities with knowledge and expertise to implement effective evidence-based program models of prevention and housing. A good example of this is the Upstream Project, led by Raising the Roof, which adapts Australia’s highly effective school based youth homelessness prevention programs. Another example is our adaptation of Housing First for Youth.

A Way Home will work with communities and government to ensure that legislation, policies and funding supports the work that communities need to do. Government cannot solve youth homelessness on its own, nor can communities. It is only through working in collaboration that the best progress can be made.

All of this is supported by an active youth homelessness research agenda, co-created with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. A number of research priorities to support the work on ending youth homelessness have been identified. In fact one of them, the first national survey on youth homelessness, is being carried out in communities across Canada this week.

A final piece of the puzzle is ‘youth voice’. There can be no solutions to youth homelessness if young people do not have an active say in what is needed, the solutions proposed, how the issues are communicated, and what finally gets implemented. Youth engagement will be central to the work of A Way Home.

The timing of the launch of A Way Home could not be better. There is something in the air that is signaling that people are ready for a change – to really do things differently. Communities across the country are coming forward with a commitment to reimagining their response to youth homelessness in a way that reduces the flow into homelessness, and helps young people exit homelessness in a way that promises the best and most sustainable results. We want all young people – whether housed or not – to transition to adulthood and wellness in a safe and planned way, with love and adult support, and the opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

Communities across the country are poised to do what is necessary to make this happen, and A Way Home will be there to support this transformation of how we respond to youth homelessness. These are exciting times indeed!

Stephen Gaetz is a Professor in the Faculty of Education and is the Director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Homeless Hub. He is also President of Raising the Roof, a leading Canadian charity that focuses on long term solutions to homelessness. 

Dr. Gaetz is committed to a research agenda that foregrounds social justice and attempts to make research on homelessness relevant to policy and program development. His research on homeless youth has focused on their economic strategies, health, education and legal and justice issues, and more recently, he has focused his attention on policy and in particular the Canadian Response to homelessness.  He has recently edited two volumes on homelessness in Canada, including: Housing First in Canada – Supporting Communities to End Homelessness. (2013) and Youth homelessness in Canada: Implications for policy and practice (2013). In addition, he has published a book on community-based responses to youth problems in Ireland and written numerous reports and articles published in a wide range of peer reviewed journals. Dr. Gaetz was Associate Dean of Research and Professional Development in the Faculty of Education Prior to his time at York University, Dr. Gaetz worked in the Community Health Sector, both at Shout Clinic (a health clinic for street youth in Toronto) and Queen West Community Health Centre in Toronto.

Dr. Gaetz has played a leading international role in knowledge dissemination in the area of homelessness. York played host to 2005’s Canadian Conference on Homelessness – the first research conference of its kind in Canada. In addition, York University now hosts the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Homeless Hub the first comprehensive and cross-disciplinary web-based clearinghouse of homelessness research in the world. The focus of this network is to work with researchers across Canada to mobilize research so that it has a greater impact on homelessness policy and planning.  Through the CHRN Dr. Gaetz is publishing policy relevant research, including two recent reports on youth homelessness: A Safe and Decent Place to Live: Towards a Housing First Framework for Youth. (2014) and Coming of Age:  Reimagining our Response to Youth Homelessness in Canada. (2014), as well as The Canadian Definition of Homelessness (2012), The Real Cost of Homelessness. Can we save money by doing the right thing? (2012), Can I See Your ID?  The Policing of Homeless Youth in Toronto (2011), and  Family Matters: Homeless youth and Eva’s Initiatives “Family Reconnect” Program. (2011).

Add Comment

Recent Tweets

Content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License

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.