The National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness comes to Toronto this week!

With contributions from Lesley McMillan, Program Director, A Way Home Canada

I’m excited about this week! Over the course of one week, I not only get to celebrate my birthday, but I also get to help host a group of thoughtful, passionate and determined folks that make up the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness (LC).

The LC’s annual meeting is happening between May 10 and 12 in Toronto. This rich community is made up of leaders from across Canada, who are making the shift away from simply managing the crisis of youth homelessness to preventing and ending it. I was fortunate to come on board with Eva’s, prior to my role with A Way Home. Since then, I’ve helped grow the LC and support a refinement and expansion of the LC’s scope of work. Now, not only does AWH host the LC, but the LC is a critical founding member of the A Way Home coalition and continues to contribute to our vision to prevent and end youth homelessness.

A community of practice on youth homelessness is very important to our collective vision. Prior to the LC’s inception, service providers across the country were doing essential and often innovative work, but they were generally done in isolation. A small group of services providers, with the support of Eva’s, decided that this needed to change and founded the LC. Not only do LC members support each other in their local work, but the LC has developed tools and resources to support the homeless-youth serving sector to implement the best practices. Some acclamations include:

“Without the support, guidance and learning opportunities provided through the Learning Community, Vancouver's Broadway Youth Resource Centre would not have been able to develop its continuum of supported housing for youth. Prior to BYRC's engagement in the Learning Community in 2006, it did not have any housing for youth. Since joining the LC, the Youth Centre has opened, supported and maintained more than 50 units of supported housing -- and the number keeps growing.” – Robert Wilmot

“I've been a part of the Learning Community since 2008 and the experience has been nothing short of exceptional. There is no greater privilege than to be a part of a group of like-minded professionals who experience the same challenges and can offer a perspective to people who cannot understand. It is comforting to know that someone across the other side of the country went through the same thing you just went through, and can be reached with a phone call. It is this kind of fellowship that truly makes the Learning Community an invaluable tool to everyone involved.”  –  Darrell Lechman (SCYAP, Executive Director)

These comments show the LC is a space where members share their local work in an open-source environment, which enables others to replicate those programs to fit the needs of their communities. It is also a space where members can ask for support and assistance to improve their practices and policies, which would directly support young people and reduce the length of their experience of homelessness.

The LC works in partnership with A Way Home, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness and others, to help ensure that the voices of youth with lived experience are elevated in all areas of policy, practice and resource development. One such example is the Without a Home’s report, based on the largest national survey on youth homelessness ever done in Canada. Led by Canadian Observatory on Homelessness in partnership with A Way Home, the study was supported at every turn by the LC. Service providers from the LC advised on the scope and delivery of the study, as well as ensuring that youth with lived experience in their communities were involved as well. The result is an important report that gives us insights into the causes and conditions of youth homelessness and points squarely at the need for prevention. This is invaluable as we collectively work to impact public policy and investment.

So lock down the hatches and board up the windows, because the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness is in town!

Melanie Redman is the co-founder and President & CEO of A Way Home Canada. Melanie also leads the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness, which is a national community of practice of youth homelessness service providers committed to reducing the amount of time any young person is in an emergency shelter or mired in homelessness. In her previous role as the Director of National Initiatives at Eva’s Initiatives, Melanie led a national pilot project to support a number of communities to develop targeted strategies to prevent and end youth homelessness. Learning from that project, other communities, and international best practices in planning led to the development of A Way Home’s Youth Homelessness Community Planning Toolkit (authored by Dr. Alina Turner), which is utilized in communities around the world. She most recently led an international consultation process to refine and build consensus on the Canadian-made Housing First for Youth program model, which responds to the needs of developing adolescents. Melanie is an internationally-recognized thought leader on utilizing Collective Impact to work across the systems that drive young people into homelessness to ensure they are also be part of the solutions.

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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.