Research Matters Blog

A Way Home Canada
January 25, 2017

Community planning is essential to preventing and ending youth homelessness. A Way Home Canada supports sector and community capacity to plan, implement and sustain effective, evidence-based and measurable strategies to prevent and end youth homelessness. Communities everywhere are asking for assistance on how to develop and implement successful plans. In response to this need, A Way Home’s Youth Homelessness Community Planning Webinar Series will provide guidance on the fundamentals for strong community planning practice over the 2017 year.

Phase One webinars, from January to March, will provide the fundamentals by introducing key concepts of youth homelessness community planning, applying the Collective Impact framework specifically to youth homelessness and focusing on the role of Ontario Service Managers and their communities in ending and preventing youth homelessness.

In Phase Two, we will dig deeper into community planning with topics ranging from the role of funders, government policy, research, youth engagement, regional planning, achieving early wins and so much more!

Who should attend?

Consider participating in one or all of these webinars if you are a(n):

  • Community Leader or coordinator of a community planning process or want to start one?
  • Funder who wants to increase the impact of your support on youth homelessness.
  • Ontario Service Manager who wants to support better service integration for young people.
  • Community Entity (CE) or Community Advisory Board (CAB) looking to enhance the impact of HPS investments on youth homelessness.
  • Policy maker who wants to ensure community plans are aligned with government policy for maximum impact?
  • Executive Director (or Manager) of a youth-serving agency who wants better integration of services in your community so young people no longer slip through the cracks.
  • Member of a community planning steering committee or board member who wants to know more about the mechanics of community planning to make more effective contributions.
  • Consultant hired to support youth homelessness efforts by conducting research, writing plans or facilitating stakeholder groups.
  • Researcher working on a project with bearing on youth homelessness and want to enhance its research and policy relevance.

Upcoming webinars

Our first webinar will be on January 31, 2017 at 1PM (EST). Dr. Alina Turner will be walking step-by-step through the fundamentals involved in building a plan to prevent and end youth homelessness. Alina has developed such plans in a variety of communities: urban, rural and regional. She brings a system planning approach to her work and grounds this in Collective Impact principles. In this webinar, she will work through topics including: community readiness, research and consultations approaches, setting targets and costs analysis, and implementation considerations. To register for the webinar visit https://youthhomelessnesscommunityplanning101.eventbrite.ca

Our second webinar on February 28, 2017 at 1PM (EST) with Melanie Redman, Executive Director of A Way Home Canada and Dr. Stephen Gaetz, Director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness will offer a practical training on Collective Impact and the role it plays in youth homelessness community planning. The session will be peppered with mini case studies of the successes and pitfalls of Collective Impact work and what we can learn from them. Participants will gain a rich understanding of why Collective Impact is critical if we want to prevent and end youth homelessness. Registration information will soon be available on the A Way Home website.  

You can also email me at mjmckitterick@awayhome.ca to sign up for our newsletter to receive updates on upcoming webinar dates and registration information.

We’re looking forward to sharing this information with you and hope to see you there!

This series was developed with generous support from the Government of Ontario and in partnership with the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association, (OMSSA) and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH).

Homeless Hub
January 20, 2017
Categories: Ask the Hub

In our latest website survey, we received the following question from Patricia F.: “Where can we get funding for transitional type housing projects?” This is a bit tough to answer without further information on the initiative but I’ll do my best!

Funding is the lifeline of service agencies but searching and applying for grants is not as simple as just asking, and gone are the days of government support as the main, if not the sole contributor. Besides providing essential services for their communities, one of the most important activities for non-profits is securing funding to fuel their operations. However, for the past three decades, the federal government has reduced funding for services providing support for people experiencing homelessness. Last year, Nick Falvo from the Calgary Homeless Foundation wrote an entry titled “Ten Things to Know About the Challenges of Ending Homelessness in Canada”, and 3 out of the 10 challenges he discussed had to do with the declining federal funds made available to non-profit organizations. Whether you’re looking for funding for transitional housing, community programming, research, advocacy or any other initiative, the lack of government funding is a serious barrier that makes it harder, if not impossible for communities to address the root causes of homelessness in a meaningful way. This point is reflected in the Government of Canada’s What We Heard report that summarized Canadians’ concerns around housing heard during the National Housing Strategy consultations held in the summer of 2016:

“Social housing providers and developers highlighted the need for innovative financing ideas, lower land costs and long-term, stable funding to help them plan and build more affordable homes for Canadians in need.”

Although the federal government has an important role to play in leading efforts in preventing and ending homelessness, provincial, territorial, municipal governments, civil institutions as well as the private sector and the general population can be important stakeholders in providing the necessary funding. Yet, when it comes to the housing question, the private sector alone doesn’t cut it and government intervention is critical if Canada is to end homelessness any time soon.  In our systems approach to homelessness section, we advocate for government participation as leaders to pull in together various sectors through collective and coordinated responses. This means the sharing of responsibilities, developing structural supports through policy, agreeing on definitions, pooling funding, and engaging multiple sectors and levels of governments.

Before jumping into Patricia’s question, I’ll quickly discuss what is meant by transitional housing. As Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) defines it:

Transitional housing is conceptualized as an intermediate step between emergency crisis shelter and permanent housing. It is more long-term, service-intensive and private than emergency shelters, yet remains time-limited to stays of three months to three years. It is meant to provide a safe, supportive environment where residents can overcome trauma, begin to address the issues that led to homelessness or kept them homeless, and begin to rebuild their support network.”

In light of the successes of Housing First models, there have been concerns around the time-limited nature of transitional housing including “rewarding” those who have proven to be “housing ready” by requiring them to move on, and for being highly dependent on the availability of affordable housing as a next step. Nevertheless, transitional housing is an important housing option where there isn’t an adequate supply of affordable housing and when dealing with youth. Unlike adults, youth lack many of the social supports deemed necessary for a successful transition into adulthood. Appropriate models of housing for youth should take into account their age, experience, level of independence and need. Therefore, models like that of Housing First need to be adapted to the needs of young people to be effective. The Housing First for Youth framework outlines the different options for models of accommodation that are suitable for youth and includes transitional housing that comes with a pathway to independent living.​

So what is available in terms of funding? I’ve researched a few transitional housing programs to shed light on a few funding models that rely on government grants and private donations at varying degrees.  

Funding Models for Transitional Housing

With the funding support of the Home Depot Canada Foundation’s Orange Door Project, we recently released the Youth Transitional Housing Toolkit.  One of the chapters discusses the funding question for both capital a

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nd operating dollars using Covenant House’s $1.7 million annual expenses as an example. This total dollar amount covers staffing costs, program expenses, food, mentoring program, and the physical housing structure. In their 2015 annual report, Covenant House highlights that 82% of their total revenue (which includes expenses beyond their transitional housing program) comes from individual donors and 13% from government funding. The vast majority (79%) comes from individuals, 8% from corporations/foundations, 9% from events and 4% from Catholic charities. Covenant House has a number of engaging ways to reach out to donors who provide the bread and butter of their agency.

Since we are on the topic of funding, The Home Depot Canada Foundation has committed $10 million to help homeless youth. In 2015, they supported 300 organizations to improve their spaces and programming initiatives. The Orange Door Project has three priorities areas that could fit with transitional housing initiatives:

  1. Increasing and improving the inventory of new and existing housing options for homeless youth.
  2. Helping homeless youth with life skills development through programs that focus on critical support services.
  3. Supporting research, community dialogue and evaluation that identifies best practices and support solutions that will help put an end to youth homelessness.

A second organization providing three distinct transitional housing programs is YWCA Halifax. Because YWCA Halifax offers a number of community-based services besides their transitional housing program, it is not clear from their 2014 annual report how much of their revenues are allocated towards their transitional housing. However, the majority of their revenue comes from both government funding and programming fees. While most of their programs are free of charge, YWCA Halifax operates two child care centres which are an important form of revenue for the organization.

Other transitional housing programs such as Siem Lelum managed by Victoria Native Friendship Centre and established with the support of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness and the City of Victoria, rent their units at below-market prices to their residents. The project is funded by the Government of Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy, the Capital Regional District’s Housing Trust Fund, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the City of Victoria. The building itself was a Traveller’s Inns that the City of Victoria purchased and renovated into 26 apartments. In addition, last year, YMCA Sprott House opened its doors, with room for up to 25 youth, it is Canada’s first transitional housing program for LBGTQ2SA youth. YMCA Sprott House is supported by funding from the City of Toronto, the Sprott Foundation, individual donors such as Ben Pobjoy, and perhaps other sources.

These are just a few examples of many transitional housing funding models that employ various strategies to diversify their revenue streams. The reality is that organizations are required to engage a number of contributors including, different levels of government, foundations, corporations, and individuals (including the tenants themselves in some cases). In addition, operating a social enterprise is another method used by organizations to offset their costs and/or run sustainable programs such as Eva’s Phoenix Print Shop. But if you’re looking to build housing or need a major cash injection, running a successful capital campaign is a must!

Below, I’ve compiled a list of funders (not including local government, businesses and community foundations) that provide large grants to organizations serving the homeless. However, I’m hoping to share this list on our Community Workspace so please feel free to tweet or Facebook me and/or share names of additional funders that you know of in the comments section below.

Canada-Wide Funders:

Resources:

Image Credit: YMCA Sprott House

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at thehub@edu.yorku.ca and we will provide a research-based answer.

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
January 18, 2017

Identifying and prioritizing adults experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness are two core components of the federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) and many local Housing First plans. In 2015, a task force convened by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Mental Health Commission of Canada analyzed 15 tools and found that DESC’s Vulnerability Assessment Tool (VAT) was the best one available. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) has integrated the VAT into HIFIS, offering Canadian service providers free software for recording VAT results and generating reports. In February, BC Housing is launching a time-limited, at-cost train-the-trainer program to support communities across Canada.

Today, the COH is releasing a training manual to support organizations that are interested in using the VAT. The VAT Training Sub-Committee revised DESC’s manual to reflect the Canadian context. All changes were reviewed and approved by DESC prior to publication. 

Changes to the Vulnerability Assessment Tool

The VAT assesses a person’s level of vulnerability in ten domains: Survival Skills, Basic Needs, Indicated Mortality Risks, Medical Risks, Organization/Orientation, Mental Health, Substance Use, Communication, Social Behaviours and Homelessness.

In the Canadian version of the tool, only the three-point scale for Homelessness has been substantively revised:

  • 1: Newly homeless and 2: Moderate history of homelessness. The ‘1’ and ‘2’ scores have been revised to reflect the Canadian definition of homelessness. The ‘2’ score has been expanded to include transitional housing, couch-surfing, and other forms of provisional accommodation.  
  • 3: Chronically and episodically homeless. The ‘3’ score is the HPS definition of ‘chronic and episodic homelessness’. This will make it easy to identify individuals in this priority population outside of other vulnerability factors. It will also facilitate data comparisons with the national Point-in-Time counts and other national publications.

These changes will have a minimal impact on VAT assessments; an individual’s score may vary by no more than one point between the Canadian version and the U.S. version.

Changes to the Training Manual

The manual has been lightly revised to reflect Canadian spellings and terms, and case studies have been updated to include Canadian examples. Some new material has been added on best practices for planning and implementing coordinated assessment processes.

Access to the Full Manual

The document shared on the Homeless Hub includes the Canadian version of the Vulnerability Assessment Tool and a few excerpts from the manual:

  • Integrating the VAT into Canadian Housing First Approaches
  • Checklist for Implementing Coordinated Assessment: What You Should Have in Place before You Use the VAT
  • Background & Development of the VAT
  • Ethical Use of the VAT – Strategies for Minimizing Harms and Maximizing Benefits
  • Best Practices for Making Referrals and Following Up

Access to the full manual will only be available to individuals who participate in the training.

The full manual includes the interview script, procedures for conducting the interviews and instructions for scoring the results. It also includes a sample client consent form, VAT write-up template, trainee evaluation checklist, quality assurance forms and other tools for implementing the VAT.

Using the VAT

The VAT can provide a consistent and fair way to identify adults who would most benefit from intensive interventions, such as supportive housing and ongoing multi-disciplinary case management. It can help to coordinate services among agencies and prevent people from falling through the cracks in the system.

However, any assessment tool is only as effective and ethical as the people and the systems administering it. People with lived experience of homelessness need to be involved at every stage of the system design, implementation, administration and evaluation. Thoughtful consideration must be given to ways to minimize harms and maximize benefits to participants. Assessors must be trained to work from a strengths-based, person-centred and trauma-informed approach. All individuals who complete a VAT must receive some type of support to find housing and access other needed resources, even if they have not been prioritized for the primary resource being made available.

Any organization planning to implement the VAT must complete training by BC Housing or another certified VAT trainer.

Canada-Specific Training Opportunities

In February, BC Housing is launching a Canada-specific in-person training program. The three-day train-the-trainer program will be facilitated by certified trainers from Vancouver, BC, and delivered in local communities. No fees will be charged for the training sessions; however, host organizations or communities will be asked to cover expenses related to the trainers’ flights, accommodations, and meals. 

BC Housing is offering these at-cost train-the-trainer sessions only for a limited time. Their goal is to certify multiple service providers to increase the availability of local training opportunities across Canada. If you are interested, please send inquiries to Will Valenciano, Housing and Health Services Manager, BC Housing, at wvalenci@bchousing.org or 604-648-4278.  

A Way Home
January 11, 2017

I had the privilege of spending some time over the holidays in sunny California. It was a fantastic trip for so many reasons, but one conversation I had with a young hair stylist in San Francisco really stands out - it was about my work on youth homelessness and prevention. She asked me about the causes and conditions of youth homelessness and then looked at me thoughtfully for a minute and said, “I know this might sound naive, but I guess I just don’t understand why we wouldn’t stop young people from becoming homeless in the first place.” Exactly. Why don’t we stop young people from becoming homeless in the first place?

2017 - The Year of Prevention
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January 2017 marks the beginning of the Year of Prevention. We are linking arms with A Way Home founding members the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness and Raising the Roof to shine the spotlight not only on the need to prevent all forms of homelessness, but examples of what that looks like at the levels of policy and practice. Though A Way Home’s efforts will hone in on youth homelessness prevention, there is so much to learn about homelessness prevention writ large and how some orders of government, communities and service providers are making headway on prevention. 

So what are we planning? The foundation of our campaign is the forthcoming prevention framework in development by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. It will provide language for understanding what is homelessness prevention, what is NOT homelessness prevention, and why. Informed by experts, it will give us clear examples to use so we can elevate the dialogue on prevention and work across systems to begin shifting our efforts to prevention. Along with the framework, we are planning a series of webinars, policy briefs, and a robust public engagement and social media strategy on prevention. To start, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness will launch an online survey in February. It will provide an opportunity for service providers, researchers, policy makers and individuals with lived experience to share their perspectives on the role of prevention in our efforts to end homelessness.

Shifting efforts to prevention is hard work and involves an incredible amount of change management, so a lot of our campaign will focus on case studies of service providers and communities that have made the shift. I have learned so much from folks working on the ground to make this happen. One of my favourite stories is from Mike Lethby, Executive Director of The Raft in the Niagara Region. I don’t want to reveal too much as he’ll be featured in a webinar (sorry Mike, more work for you), but when Mike and The Raft began working upstream in rural communities and schools to identify young people at risk of homelessness and provide supports to them and their families to ensure housing stability, they almost had to shut down the organization, as their shelter beds were no longer full. Through some brilliant change management, The Raft came out the other side with a refocused mission on prevention and much better outcomes for young people - and isn’t that what we’re here for?

To circle back to my conversation in San Francisco about prevention - yes, it should be obvious, but sometimes the obvious evades us. So let’s work together to make 2017 go down in history as the year we stopped kicking at the tires of prevention, but instead got behind the wheel and hit the open road.

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. 

University of Calgary; Turner Research & Strategy Inc.
January 03, 2017

In this final blog post in the Haven’s Way series, I wanted to share some of the key factors that make the program work in practice. I hope these speak to those who may be interested in exploring the model in their local contexts. Some of these elements are just common sense, and should be present in any intervention - others are more specific to the Haven’s Way model. See full report on the program here.

Working with the youth, staff, founders and funders of the program, I tried to distill elements that were ‘essential’ to the success of the program in achieving stability and independence for vulnerable youth.  This goes beyond assessing the program’s effectiveness and areas for improvement usually found in program evaluations, to highlight considerations that would be important to reflect on for any funder, policy maker or service provider interested in replicating/adapting the model in other communities and/or for other popula­tions.

From a policy perspective, discerning effective and cost-efficient housing and support mod­els for youth that are replicable for other populations and communities is critical. Scaling the program has potential because of the replicability of the model in low density ar­eas, including rural communities.

Essential Elements of the Haven’s Way Program Model

To replicate the model, a number of features were seen as essential by youth, staff, the founders and other stakeholders, which are consistent with youth perspectives on program strengths across four interrelated domains. 

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Domain 1: Program Operations

  • Agency philosophy aligns with the program approach.
  • Career advancement of previous program staff into agency leadership roles responsible for the program reaffirm approach within agency management and enhance support for program.
  • Agency management supports program staff autonomy and self-care, yet steps in as needed in operations.
  • Live-in staff are supported by a dedicated full-time Program Coordinator, who carries case management and program leadership roles, additional reporting and accreditation-related tasks.
  • There is continuity in program staffing, with low turn­over.
  • Staff self-care is strongly supported to ensure sustain­ability.
  • Program balances accreditation requirements with maintaining a home-like environment and natural ap­proach with youth.
  • Independent sources of sustainable and flexible funds present minor restrictions on operations, facilitating program responsiveness to youth versus funding re­quirements.

Domain 2: Program Model

  • A thorough screening and intake process for new youth and staff discerns fit with house dynamics and program model.
  • Staff live with youth, providing consistent onsite presence, positive role modeling and low turnover to mitigate attachment issues.
  • Program timelines are flexible based on participant needs and there is no length of stay prescribed.
  • Transition planning is intentional and tailored to each participant, with ongoing connection beyond program exit.
  • Financial assistance is in place to ensure youth’s basic needs are met, while life skills are built to pay rent, sav­ings for move-out, budgeting for food/clothes, shopping and cooking.
  • Access to flexible funds is in place to cover costs of recreation and community inclusion activities to build youth’s natural supports and life skills.
  • Program integrates natural supports and communi­ty-based service connections to build a base for inde­pendence after program exit.
  • Youth are supported and coached in how to access needed resources (therapy, school, jobs, recreation, community supports, etc.) according to their individual and changing needs.
  • Program graduates have access to transition planning and supports and considerable savings to support finan­cial needs at move-out.
  • Youth have access to post-secondary funding and educational/career planning support, reaffirming their potential as they transition to adulthood.

Domain 3: Program Philosophy

  • A youth-led approach is in place, respective of their strengths, preferences, and pace; staff guide and men­tor, versus prescribe youth actions.
  • Supports are individually tailored to each youth, foster­ing independence and self-determination.
  • Youth feel respected, safe, and cared for in a home environment that provides an opportunity to experience and learn security and stability while making mistakes.
  • There is an explicit focus on education as youth are supported to move forward with lives; this includes access to post-secondary education scholarships.
  • Program staff effectively mitigate risks surrounding youth acuity (addiction, mental health, risk behaviours), while maintaining a relationship-focus and youth-led approach.
  • Staff strive to balance youth-led, harm-tolerant ap­proach with the need to maintain a safe, sober living environment for all youth and staff living in the home, without discharging youth into homelessness.
  • Peer support is encouraged among participants; yet, relationships are nurtured, not forced.
  • Alumnae roles are encouraged for former participants and staff to build community beyond program exit and provide opportunities to give back to the program, par­ticularly through peer mentoring.
  • Founders act as focal points supporting long-term engagement of alumnae by creating opportunities for connection, giving back, and mentoring.

Domain 4: Housing Environment

  • Physical space is designed with target population and program approach in mind, facilitating a home-like environment.
  • Attachment to place is facilitated: youth are able to decorate own rooms, have a say in house decorations, backyard landscaping, etc.
  • Youth have active roles in determining house rules and have a say in regulating their home environment.
  • The presence of a physical home-base (housing en­vironment) anchors current and past participants in a broader social network.

Implications for Public Systems Policy Response to Vulnerable Youth

I want to urge those working with youth experiencing complex challenges in a policy, program or funder capacity to consider these elements against current models as they read through this post. The approach can be used to revision the operations of housing and service models in public systems, including corrections, child intervention, and mental health – all who operated support­ive housing for youth.

This resonates with me in relation to child intervention group homes: in the words of a youth who was in group homes most of her life before Haven’s Way,

“I just don’t get why you couldn’t have this for status kids –

why would you put me through 20 foster homes and group homes..?”

 

The child intervention response could be adapt­ed to formally include options such as Havens’ Way, albeit modification may be needed to serve higher acuity youth and manage additional safety concerns

In closing ….

We hope this blog series was of use to all of you working to end homelessness. We also hope this will inspire more good work to emerge and inspire our collective movement.

I also wanted to acknowledge the vision and support this project has seen from David French (Government of Alberta), Kim Wirth (Boys and Girls Club of Calgary) and Karen and John Sherbut – the founders of Haven’s Way and their steadfast champions and most importantly, the youth and frontline staff who live Haven’s Way and contributed to this work.   

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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.