Everyone understands that it is better to prevent a problem before it starts, rather than have to deal with the consequences after. Whether we are talking about smoking, cancer, or car safety, prevention is always the preferable option.
So why do we not focus on preventing youth homelessness in Canada? When young people become homeless, they often lose not only the roof over their head, but family, friends, important adults in their lives (like teachers) and their community. Once on the streets, most have to drop out of school, and many suffer trauma, malnutrition, and exploitation. Mental health deteriorates, some turn to drugs and alcohol to cope, and to crime for money, making it more and more difficult to escape the streets.
In most communities our response focuses on addressing youth homelessness after it has happened, through the provision of emergency supports such as shelter beds and soup kitchens. Some communities lack even that. And prevention is not discussed at all.
It does not have to be this way. Countries that are making great progress on youth homelessness – like England, Scotland and Australia - invest heavily in prevention. Both the UK and Australia have a strong focus on prevention, much of which occurs in schools
If Canadian communities want to have a major impact on youth homelessness the focus should be on prevention and the work should begin in schools. Fortunately, the existing international examples provide clear direction on what to do, and how to do it.
This website highlights what is known about school-based youth homelessness prevention programs, including the underlying principles, and provides examples of existing intervention programs that can and should be adapted on a large scale in Canada. We conclude with a description of what is arguably one of the most successful school-based prevention programs, Australia’s The Geelong Project.
On April 24th, 2015, we hosted a presentation by Associate Professor David MacKenzie and Dr. Michael Coffey, leading experts on youth homelessness prevention from Australia. The presenters provided an overview of school-based approaches to the prevention of youth homelessness and focussed particularly on The Geelong Project (TGP).