Research Matters Blog
It’s hard to believe that in a country as prosperous as Canada, homelessness is such a widely pervasive issue. On any given night, 35,000 Canadians are homeless and at least 235,000 people experience homelessness in a year. For some, this reality is often difficult to rationalize. Because we live in a prosperous country (ranking #9 on the UN’s Human Development Index) and due to the social services we have in place for the very purpose of preventing forms of extreme poverty like homelessness, we are often left asking “How?”
On the other hand, when considering the decline of income and social assistance in Canada and its correlation with the rise of homelessness over the past 30 years, it is clear that our venerated social safety net might not be as reliable as we think.
Welfare in Canada
Many forms of government benefits fall under the umbrella term of “social assistance” including welfare, disability support payments, old age security and employment insurance. They are an integral part of our social safety net. In Canada, social assistance coordination is regulated by each province and territory, resulting in variations in procedures across the nation, while Indigenous populations have a separate, federally administered social assistance program altogether. Generally speaking, recipients are eligible for social assistance if they meet a strict set of criteria for individuals or families who have no means of financially supporting themselves. That includes temporary situations such as loss of employment and long-term situations such as disabilities and other health issues.
Recipients of social assistance often find it doesn’t cover basic living expenses, however. In fact, social assistance payments are lower than what people would have received 20 years ago - since the 1990s, social assistance benefits have consistently failed to keep up with inflation and rising costs of living.
For instance, a single recipient of temporary assistance receives $510 per month in British Columbia. This is clearly nowhere near enough to compensate for basic living necessities like rent, food and transportation. Moreover, research finds that:
- Between 1990 and 2009, inflation increased by 45.9% and most social assistance incomes did not keep up. As a result, many people receiving social assistance are worse off than the recipients of earlier decades. In several cases, social assistance incomes decreased by 20% or more.
- Social assistance incomes were consistently far below most socially accepted measures of adequacy across Canada.
- Amounts for basic needs such as food, housing, clothing, household expenses, transportation and personal grooming items are set by government regulations or policy directive. These amounts are often set arbitrarily and do not necessarily reflect the actual cost of necessities.
- Social assistance programs in Canada are designed as a measure of last resort, which means the recipients must exhaust their sources of income, including savings, before they may qualify. While certain types of exemptions of assets exist for RESP or RDSP, many are nearly destitute by the time they are eligible for social assistance. This is known as “asset stripping”.
Welfare & Homelessness
Homelessness is often not attributed to a single misfortune. Rather, it is a combination of personal factors as well as system and structural failures. The inability of social assistance to supply individuals or families with enough money or support for housing goes hand-in-hand with the lack of affordable housing across Canada. Moreover, minimum wage rates across the country (e.g. $11.40 in Ontario and $10.85 in BC) are hardly sufficient for many people to make ends meet.
State of Homelessness in Canada 2016 confirms that the rate of homelessness in Canada today is a result of austerity measures executed across the country since the 1990s. This includes cuts to our social safety net that have impacted lower-income Canadians. Ideally, individuals experiencing or who are at-risk of homelessness ought to be eligible for and recipients of social assistance as a measure of protection against job loss or increasing housing costs - more often than not, this fails to be the case.
Currently, 1 in 7 (or 4.9 million) Canadians live in poverty, while 1 in 8 Canadian households struggle to put food on the table. According to a McMaster University study, there is a 21-year difference in life expectancy between the poorest and wealthiest residents of Hamilton, Ontario.
Contrary to popular belief, individuals experiencing homelessness are least likely to access or receive social assistance due to variety of barriers and facts that deter individuals from applying. Some examples are:
- Claims stating a decline in the volume of social assistance applications show that increasing level of Canadians are escaping poverty are misleading. On the contrary, the application process for social assistance has become more onerous and difficult to navigate, thereby discouraging applications altogether.
- Individuals who speak English as a second language, those with limited educational attainment or those with physical or mental illnesses often have the most trouble navigating the application system.
- Applying for social assistance generally requires reliable access to a phone or internet, which may prove challenging for those who are at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.
- Application criteria demands a copious amount of documentation required for social assistance eligibility. For those who are experiencing homelessness or fleeing abusive homes, such records may be difficult to retain, leading to ineligibility.
- In British Columbia, individuals turned away from social assistance programs on the basis of ineligibility are often directed by the BC Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance to food banks and shelters.
- To be eligible for social assistance, applicants generally must pass several administrative barriers such as a mandatory three-week job search period as well as having to prove they have earned an income ‘legitimately’ for two consecutive years. However, this does not acknowledge the informal economy that individuals experiencing homelessness are employed by and often limited to.
- Social assistance programs across the country are designed to ensure recipients re-enter the labour market as quickly as possible. However, this criteria fails to consider that many are not ready to work due to lack of transportation, addictions, young dependants, mental illness and/or other factors.
- For single mothers who are able to access social assistance, incomes are often too low to provide financial security and stable housing. Furthermore, single mothers receiving social assistance often face discrimination from landlords and/or employers, making returning to work and finding housing even more challenging.
- In Ontario, youth under 18 experiencing homelessness are ineligible for social assistance if they do not have a guardian or trustee. On the other hand, those over 18 and receiving social assistance don’t earn livable income. Furthermore, studies find that youth on social assistance also face discrimination from landlords, limiting their access to housing.
- Social assistance programs require recipients to find employment as soon as possible, regardless if their wages are sufficient enough to provide financial security or not. In Ontario, when individuals do find work, social assistance is often clawed back by 50 cents to every $1 earned. Under this set up, individuals are forced to exhaust all earnings on basic expenses and in the event of job loss, they are once again vulnerable to homelessness.
Despite the barriers that Canadians living in poverty often face, there are changes happening at the policy level. In July 2016, the federal government introduced the Canada Child Benefit, promising to lift approximately 300,000 Canadian children from poverty. However, given that in 2014 there were a reported 1.3 million Canadian children living in poverty, the positive impact of the Canada Child Benefit is somewhat limited. In light of this, we echo the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in imploring the federal government to address broader structures of inequality.
In fact, support for a basic income is gaining traction on both the left and right of the political spectrum. The function of a basic income would be to provide Canadians with a fixed income not contingent upon market swings, eliminating other forms of social assistance. A basic income also guarantees a reliable income source to buffer against times of financial insecurity, thus preventing more extreme forms of poverty like housing or food insecurity. The benefits of a basic income are encouraging, as one study found that based on the model of Old Age Security, persons aged 65 and older who transitioned from social assistance payments to a guaranteed income experienced increased mental and physical health as well as income and housing security. (For an in-depth consideration of the guaranteed annual income debate please see Dr. Nick Falvo’s piece.)
The implementation of an unconditional, basic income that considers vulnerable, in-need Canadians is a step towards combating homelessness. This is also known as a preventative framework. Much like the philosophy that governs “Housing First,” the provision of a basic income should not be subject to rigid, unrealistic and often discouraging eligibility criteria. Preferably, it should recognize access to social assistance and a broader social safety net as our absolute right and an uncompromisable part of our welfare state, rather than a last resort.
Palliative care is composed of services provided to those at the end of their lives, either from old age or serious illnesses. Palliative care services can be provided in hospitals, nursing homes, shelters, hospices, at home and to a certain extent at drop-in centres or on the streets.
The goal of palliative care is to ease the end-of-life transition, reduce pain, provide medical support and prepare the client and family/friends for impending death. Palliative care is often in a 24-hour facility or at home including visiting nurses, doctors and additional supports provided by friends or family members. It is designed to help the terminally ill spend their last days with dignity and less suffering.
Last year, the Homeless Hub had posted a blog article discussing the types of palliative care services available to the homeless population, as well as the barriers in accessing them. In this article, I will list some of the palliative care services in Canada serving the homeless populations.
So what’s available?
Currently, there are more than 5,000 people experiencing homelessness in Toronto. A recent research study shows the homeless population is more likely to have a wide range of health issues and have two to four times higher mortality rate than the general population. Dr. Dosani, who previously wrote a blog entry on the need for palliative care that meets the needs of people experiencing homelessness, is a palliative care and family physician at PEACH (Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless) offered by Inner City Health Associates (ICHA). ICHA is currently composed of a group of more than 60 health care providers working in over 40 shelters and drop-ins across the City of Toronto, providing health care to the homeless population. Last year, Dr. Dosani performed a powerful TEDx talk, describing PEACH as a service aiming to build partnership between community agencies and the mainstream health system, to ensure that people experiencing homelessness receive the same healthcare other Canadians receive.
Recently, CBC ran a news segment of what Dr. Dosani’s day looks like as he supports his patients. His work takes him from one end of the city to the other wherever his patients are currently staying. Through his advocacy, Dr. Dosani illustrates the great need for programs like PEACH by telling the story of Terri, one of his former patients experiencing homelessness whose tragic death had a profound impact on his work. This experience pushed Dr. Dosani in his quest to ensure the homeless population is not denied of palliative care they too need. He has also written about PEACH and some of the alarming health data coming out of Toronto’s shelter system such as the average life expectancies for people experiencing homelessness are estimated to be between 24 and 47 years. To put this into perspective, the life expectancy of the general population is 83 years old for women and 79 for men.
The program is not only about providing care services but also increasing the capacity of community homeless agencies to support the end-of-life clients, educating mainstream palliative care services about homeless people, advocating for high quality, early and integrated palliative care, as well as advancing the body of research in this area.
The Ottawa Mission’s Diane Morrison Hospice is a 24-hour palliative nursing care available to people facing their final days. It was founded in 1999 and since then, the Mission has partnered with Ottawa Inner City Health and other health care professionals to support patients at any stage of their illnesses. The hospice has space for up to six people needing round the clock care and nine spaces for those needing chronic palliative and extensive health care services. Three more spaces are available for terminally ill clients living elsewhere in the community.
The hospice program serves men, women and couples and is committed to welcoming anyone experiencing homelessness while needing end-of-life care. The goal is to provide patients with the equivalent of a home and a family, as well as staff who are trained to provide quality care comparable to what is provided to non-homeless Canadians. They have trained volunteers, and their doors are open to family and friends who also provide support. The hospice has access to religious caregivers including Indigenous spiritual support staff.
What differentiates this program from other mainstream palliative care services is their harm reduction approach. Patients are not required to abstain from using substances as long as they are not posing a risk to others at the facility. The program is not only a health care facility; it is a space to strengthen communities and bring meaning and dignity to the end of life of those experiencing homelessness.
The Calgary Allied Mobile Palliative Program (CAMPP) is a new two-person team providing care to the homeless population in Calgary suffering from terminal illnesses. CAMPP launched in October 2016 as a mobile service with one nurse coordinator, Rachel Edwards, along with Dr. Simon Colgan. As a new service less than 6 months old, their future is uncertain. CAMPP’s website does not provide information on its program but lists its contact information and a link to their donation page.
In just a few months, CAMPP has served 40 people while making no demands from patients to stop using substances. In an interview with CBC, Dr. Colgan said, “I wanted to make sure that things like addiction and lifestyle didn’t preclude people from the best quality of end of life that we could offer.” The team visits the city’s Drop-In and Rehab Centre, Alpha House and even search for potential patients staying under bridges. It is estimated that approximately 550 homeless people with two or more chronic conditions are currently living in Calgary. With so much need for palliative services among the homeless population, Dr. Colgan recently shared with us that CAMPP recently received funding to extend the program.
Do Mind the Gap
Thanks to the increasing research highlighting the gap of palliative care services available to the homeless population, there has been an increasing recognition of the pressing health care needs in this area. However, there still remains a service gap in Canada.
A recent article on PORT, a network bringing together some palliative services catering to the needs of the homeless population in the Vancouver Island area, stated there is not enough funding. Dr. Kelli Stajduhar and Ashley Mollison of the Institute on Aging and Lifelong Health at the University of Victoria, who co-wrote the article, explain that the lack of funds is typical for hospices across Canada. As a solution, Dr. Dosani provided three cost-effective recommendations:
- Providing accessible health care by getting health care professionals out in communities to treat people early in their disease journey.
- A flexible health care system by adopting approaches such as harm-reduction to build relationships with people who have experienced years of discrimination and trauma should be developed.
- Humanistic and compassionate care that respects human dignity beyond the stigma of patients’ marginalization needs to be promoted.
Palliative care delivery system that meets the health care needs of the homeless populations requires funding for a robust infrastructure. On the other hand, it does not have to be costly, as suggested by Dr. Dosani. Health care services should not be confined to only those who are housed – We should not forget health care is part of the Canadian ethos.
- Advance care planning, palliative care, and end-of-life care interventions for homeless people: A systematic review
- End-of-Life Care for Homeless Patients: She Says She is There to Help Me in Any Situation
- Shelter-Based Palliative Care for the Homeless Terminally Ill
- Advance care planning, palliative care, and end-of-life care interventions for homeless people: A systematic review
- The Homeless Terminally Ill and Hospice & Palliative Care
- Minding the gap: access to palliative care and the homeless
This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will provide a research-based answer.
For many years, I’ve been powerfully committed to the idea that the arts have the transformative and energetic power to create social change. Even a cursory knowledge of the history of social movements shows us that art is a powerful tool for challenging power structures, mobilizing communities, and re-imagining more just and equitable futures. I first got a sense of this power as a teenager in Guelph, Ontario, when I was given a small grant to run an arts program at a youth shelter. When the shelter closed overnight, pushing youth onto the street with no transition plan, I began running the program on street corners, in parks, and in the basements of community organizations. I would wheel my arts supplies around in a little white cart, and remarkably attendance seemed to increase! Traveling from across the city and neighbouring communities, more and more youth came to create collages, stained glass, documentaries, paintings, and jewelry. I had the great pleasure of creating artwork side by side with marginalized youth who described themselves as “coming alive” when they were painting, sketching, or making music. These wonderful experiences caused me to ask: What was it about art that was so engaging for these youth? Why did art-making matter so much?
While arts programming and art therapy is often offered in community agencies and organizations serving youth who are homeless, research on this type of programming has been fairly limited. Available research, however, consistently emphasizes that art-making is particularly important for these young people. Sean Kidd’s study, for example, found that for street-involved youth, creating art “was not, as it might be described by many people without adversity in their lives, something merely positive. It was described as something vital to survival”. Other research has shown that the arts can provide a safe environment for self-expression for youth who face a range of traumatic experiences and social exclusions, and that youth are able to experience a sense of self-efficacy, self-esteem, and individuality by bringing new artistic works into existence.
Building on some of this important research, I recently conducted a study with Dr. Barbara Fallon on the value of art-making for youth experiencing homelessness. Conducted at a large youth-serving shelter, the study sought to explore (1) youth’s understandings of the value and importance of art-making in their lives, (2) the benefits youth attributed to art-making in their lives, and (3) program characteristics that youth viewed as important to successful arts-based programming. Through this study I was able to interview 20 youth experiencing homelessness about the value of arts in their lives. Here are some of the things they had to say:
“Arts are what keep me going . . . it’s everything.”
“I’d be lost if this wasn’t here [at the arts program] . . . I would honestly, like, lose my mind. Honestly. Like this is – I really need this. I feel like a lot of people need this space. It’s important for all of us. It’s like – we really need this. Just to express ourselves, to be us.”
“It’s very therapeutic. I think whether it be writing words on a page, like a journal, or whether it be drawing a picture. Your emotions go into that stroke of the pencil.”
“ [Art] is the one thing that actually helps out a lot . . . I kind of break down on the weekends because I don’t have that.
“And once the finished product is done, then I feel amazing. [I think] ‘Yes! I did this! It’s sick!’ . . . It makes me happy. [I think] ‘Oh, I can actually still do this, even though I went through this or went through that.’”
Benefits of Art-Making for Youth Experiencing Homelessness
Our study identified some of the key benefits that youth attributed to art-making in their lives:
- Stress Reduction & Relaxation: Many youth identified that creating art helped them feel “relaxed,” “calm,” and/or helped them deal with stress.
- Mental Health Recovery: Many youth felt that art making assisted in their mental health recovery and promoted mental wellness. Several youth felt that art-making was not just important but absolutely necessary for their recovery from mental health issues.
- Healing Trauma: Many youth expressed that being in a non-judgmental, safe space in which they were able to create and express who they are assisted with healing past traumas, including experiences during which they had been rejected, abused, or neglected.
- Self-Expression & Self-Discovery: Youth commonly explained that art-making provides an important therapeutic form of self-expression, while also providing a space in which to learn about their thoughts and feelings. For some youth, art-making allowed them to express and release difficult emotions, while others felt art-making enabled them to access a more authentic sense of themselves.
- Self-Confidence: Many youth attributed art-making and the arts program to an increase in self-confidence, which they often linked to self-discovery and mental health recovery.
Importantly, youth also identified program qualities that amplified these benefits, including:
- The creation of a non-judgmental, safe space;
- Flexible programming so youth engage at their own pace; and
- Opportunities for staff and other youth to appreciate youth’s talents, dreams, and needs through their artwork.
Some youth felt that these characteristics created a social environment in which they were more likely to help each other, seek help from others, think about the needs of others, and listen to one another.
10 ways the arts can be used to address the individual, systemic, and structural causes of youth homelessness
Given the value that many youth experiencing homelessness attribute to art-making, how can we use the arts in our efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness? Here are 10 possibilities:
Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network, which uses the arts to transform the juvenile justice system.
2. Healing & Recovery from Trauma: Given that many youth experiencing homelessness have histories of trauma, and that homelessness itself is traumatizing, there is a need for services to employ a trauma-informed approach. Various studies have shown that arts-based programming can foster healing and recovery for youth who have experienced trauma. In my study, for example, many youth felt that art-making was crucial to their recovery from traumatic life experiences. Importantly, some youth identified art-making as absolutely necessary for their recovery, as well as the foundation upon which they were able to re-engage in employment, education, and/or training. Such research suggests that arts programs may function as an important pathway to education, employment, or training for some youth who are homeless. A great example of a program that does this work is the Arts & Minds program at Covenant House Toronto.
3. Public Education: Shifting public discourse and understandings about youth homelessness is crucial in order to promote public and governmental investments in solutions. The arts is one of the many tools we can use to foster improved public understanding of the issue, which in turn can encourage government action. Us and Them, produced by Krista Loughton and Jennifer Abbott, is a great example of using filmmaking to transform public perceptions of homelessness.
4. Building Social Supports and Connections: Given the social isolation many youth experience while homeless, arts programs can provide an important opportunity to connect with others, build friendships, and establish support systems. An excellent example of this in Toronto is Sketch, whose theory of change is based on the belief that “if young people living on the margins or homeless engage and develop in the arts, they will increase their resilience and capacity to live well and lead in building inclusive and creative communities.”
5. Skill-Building for the New Economy: Young Canadians are finding it increasingly difficult to find employment that enables them to live independently and support themselves. In fact, 42.3% of all young Canadians between the ages of 20 and 29 continue to live with their parents, almost double the figure from the 1980s. In this context, youth are increasingly employing entrepreneurial means in order to generate income, including through creative enterprises. The rise of online platforms like Etsy and Shopify have provided young artists new opportunities to support themselves, while also developing their artistic and business skills. Given this changing economy, educational and employment programs for youth experiencing homelessness should integrate arts-based programming that fosters both artistic and entrepreneurial skills in order to prepare these young people for the new economy.
6. Community Integration: Not only are youth experiencing homelessness isolated from critical supports and relationships in their lives, but as a group, these youth often face systemic discrimination and marginalization because of their housing status (among other factors). Not only does this significantly worsen outcomes for youth who are homeless, but their communities also miss out on the ideas, skills, talents, and ingenuity of these young people. Art-making and arts programs which foster community integration and community building can provide important avenues for youth to see themselves as important members of their society, and for society to benefit from their skills and talents. A great example of this kind of work is Saskatoon Community Youth Arts Programming Inc., which aims to “foster acceptance, integration and equality within the Saskatoon community by carrying out collaborative projects with different sectors, such as business, government, social and health services, and promoting inclusiveness and diverse cultural expression in classes, workshops and presentations.”
7. Cultural Connection for Indigenous Youth: Indigenous youth are disproportionately represented among the homeless youth population in Canada. As has been documented by many contemporary reports and studies, including the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Report, the disproportionate poverty, violence, and marginalization experienced by Indigenous peoples is directly related to the historical impacts of colonization and ongoing racism. In this context, arts-based programs for Indigenous youth experiencing homelessness, focused on Indigenous art forms and cultural practices, may foster community connections and healing that can support youth to transition out of homelessness. An excellent example of this in Vancouver is the Overly Creative Minds program in the Urban Native Youth Association, which aims to “encourage skills-building, leadership and community engagement amongst Indigenous youth, while celebrating, developing, and sharing their voices and perspectives through dynamic arts and culture programming.”
8. Supports for Youth Transitioning from Homelessness: Research has shown that transitions from homelessness can be difficult for youth, and that without the proper supports youth may experience poor outcomes in health, housing, and wellbeing. The Halifax-Toronto Exiting Street Life study, for example, found that transitions out of homelessness can be improved through “access to programs that foster valued identities, skill building, social interaction, and healthy entertainment and stress relief (sports, art, bike repair, etc.). As one of the lead investigators, Sean Kidd, explains, “Engaging the creative process through the arts is a critical tool in this area . . . At a time when many people are feeling alone and uncertain about their place in the world, engaging in the arts builds community and meaning.”
9. Research Mobilization: While we have decades of powerful research on youth homelessness in Canada, we have not yet been able to meaningfully reduce the number of young people without housing. As part of our efforts to make research matter, we can utilize the arts to more broadly and effectively communicate research findings to decision makers, who in turn can develop policies that can reduce and end youth homelessness. A great example of arts-based knowledge mobilization is the Halifax-Toronto Exiting Street Life study comic book.
10. Career Development: Providing youth experiencing homelessness with training in artistic skills can also help prepare them for future careers in the arts. There are some great programs across Canada that connect artistic youth who are homeless with career opportunities in creative industries. For example, The Remix Project in Toronto and Chicago is a creative marketing agency providing career training and experience to marginalized youth who wish to enter into the creative industry or further their education.
On January 24, I gave a presentation to students at the University of Calgary as part of the Certificate in Working with Homeless Populations program. The goal of this presentation was to discuss emerging trends in Canada’s affordable housing and homelessness sectors.
A version of my PowerPoint slides, which are chock-full of visuals and references, can be downloaded here: Falvo Recent Emerging Trends in Homelessness WHP 2 of 3
This is Part 2 of a 3-part presentation I gave that day. I’ve blogged about Part 1 here and will blog about Part 3 in the coming weeks.
- When it comes to affordable housing and homelessness, the Trudeau government has put its money where its mouth is…so far. In its first budget, substantial new investments were announced for housing for First Nations, Inuit, and Northern communities (approximately $370 million annually for two years). New funding for renovations of existing social housing was also announced. Approximately $55 million in new annual funding was announced for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (also for two years). Annual funding for the Investment in Affordable Housing Initiative was doubled (for 2016/17 and 2016/18). What’s more, $100 million in new annual funding for seniors housing was announced, also for two years. (A succinct list of housing-related initiatives from the 2016/17 federal budget can be found here, while a more thorough analysis can be found here.)
- However, the Trudeau government has yet to put in place a long-term plan to deal with operating agreements that are expiring on existing units of non-profit housing. Canada’s provinces and territories receive funding on an annual basis from the federal government to operate existing housing units (mostly for low-income tenants). This funding is not just used to cover the mortgages; it also helps with the ongoing operating costs—that is, the difference between the rent received from tenants and what it actually costs the housing provider to keep the units in a good state of repair. These funding agreements usually last 35-50 years. Some of these funding agreements have already started to sunset; they’re scheduled to end altogether in 2039.
- Canada’s aging population will pose challenges for non-profit housing providers across Canada. It’s well-known that Canada’s population is aging, and this is starting to impact homeless demographics. Among other things, this means that demand for seniors supportive housing (i.e. subsidized housing with professional social staff support for low-income seniors) will grow a July 2010 advocacy paper on this topic (with a Calgary focus) can be found here.
- Many plans to “end homelessness” are starting to sunset. Beginning in the late-2000s, several Canadian jurisdictions made plans to “end homelessness.” Most were 10-year plans; and those 10-year ‘deadlines’ are nearing, which means the proverbial chickens are now coming home to roost. Very recently, the City of Victoria announced it was pushing its ‘deadline’ back by three years. An October 2016 report argues that such plans are overly ambitious and ill-advised without substantial new funding from senior orders of government. I think the belief that communities can “end homelessness” with a ‘can do’ attitude is starting to wear thin. Indeed, for some observers, 10-year plans, while well-intentioned, lacked the necessary support from senior orders of government to be successful. I therefore predict we’ll start to see advocates place increased emphasis on the need for deep-seated changes to public policy, and less emphasis on what local communities can do differently.
- The final report of the National Housing Strategy will soon be released. Canada’s federal government has undertaken national consultations on the development of a “national housing strategy.” The consultation web site is called “Let’s Talk Housing.” It includes the consultation’s stated vision, principles, themes, intended outcomes, a ‘what we heard’ document and key dates.
The author wishes to thank the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, Louise Gallagher, Kara Layher, Lindsay Lenny, Steve Pomeroy and one anonymous source for assistance in writing this. Any errors are his.
This blog post has been republished with permission from the Calgary Homeless Foundation website.
I’m heading to Helsinki Monday night. Why Helsinki? Though I do enjoy the commitment to all things death metal, uncomfortable group spa trips with colleagues and the extreme cold, I’m actually heading there with Dr. Gaetz to learn from European colleagues and to contribute to a growing body of work concerning the Canadian-made Housing First for Youth model. (All kidding aside, Finland is a pretty fantastic place.)
As an American in Canada, I’ve had years of practice in breaking open my thinking beyond national borders. Concerning my work in youth homelessness, I find it not only important but essential to look beyond Canada to innovative solutions in policy and practice globally for preventing and ending youth homelessness. Canadians also make important contributions to this body of work. The Housing First for Youth model is adapted from the adult Housing First model to meet the needs of developing adolescents. It was developed by our very own Dr. Stephen Gaetz in collaboration with youth with lived experience, the Hamilton Street Youth Planning Collaborative, and the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness. The model has taken root in countries around the world and the learnings from those implementing the model in various contexts are proving invaluable in evolving the model, and therefore enhancing the supports young people experience on the ground.
Another great example of making international engagement work for Canadian youth is The Upstream Project. Though I’ve written about it before, it’s one of the things I’m most proud to be a part of. Led by our friends at Raising the Roof in partnership with Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, A Way Home, the Push for Change and community partners The Raft and 360°kids, this model of school-based early identification and intervention could help to transform our response to youth homelessness in Canada. The Upstream Project is an adaptation of The Geelong Project in Australia. Our on-going collaboration with “the Australians” as we lovingly refer to the visionaries behind this project, has proven key to implementing the model in the Canadian context.
Recently, we were proud to host a delegation from Denmark that came to learn from our efforts to prevent and youth homelessness using the Collective Impact approach. They visited Calgary and Toronto to learn about innovative solutions at the policy and program levels that they can adapt in Denmark. As is the way with these types of exchanges, I think we learned more from them than they could possibly know. The great news is now we have established relationships with the Home for All Alliance and the Bikuben Foundation that will allow us to continue the shared learning. Catherine Donnelly Foundation also hosted a funder-to-funder event and dialogue concerning the role of philanthropy in this global movement.
I would also like to give a shout out to Canadian service providers, many of whom have program models that have been showcased and adapted internationally. Just the other day, Eva’s released an updated version of the Family Reconnect Toolkit that has supported communities internationally to do this important work. Our friends at Covenant House Toronto have shared their model for supporting young women who have experienced human trafficking. I met someone in the U.S. just last week, who said that their community was basing a lot of their work in this area on Covenant House’s toolkit. In a meeting with the E.U. Commission last year, Dr. Gaetz and I were asked to represent and discuss HireUp’s innovative work on youth homelessness and employment. One more example that is at the top of my mind lately is the approach that Winnipeg took concerning Indigenous leadership on developing a youth homelessness community plan. This is just a tiny sampling of the kinds of innovations that can, and in my experience will translate to many countries around the world.
I’ll close by saying that I feel completely honoured to engage internationally on behalf of A Way Home Canada in service of youth experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. Next up? I’m off to pack my Black Sabbath t-shirt and bathing costume for Finland.
This post is part of a monthly series that follows A Way Home's progress as we create real change on the issue of youth homelessness. On the second Wednesday of every month, join us for an update from A Way Home's Executive Director, Melanie Redman.
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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.