Plans to End Youth Homelessness
The toolkit development process involved research and key stakeholder consultation to collect and review existing promising practices from a variety of communities across Canada at various stages of youth plan development and implementation. The research also draws on U.S., U.K. and Australian best practices literature to complement the Canadian findings.
Communities of different sizes are highlighted to ensure the toolkit’s relevance across Canada; provincial approaches are also included. Key stakeholders with experience developing and/or implementing youth plans provided input into the final toolkit, along with materials that can be used as resources. Note that one of these plans (Alberta) is provincial in scope; though the primary focus of this toolkit is on local community plans it has applicability to provincial/territorial plans as well.
Table 1: Youth Plans Across Canada and the U.S.
We must acknowledge the experience of Indigenous people in Canada if we are to truly end youth homelessness, particularly in light of their consistent overrepresentation in vulnerable populations. Indigenous homelessness is notably different; the structural and systemic determinants associated with colonialism, the Indian Act, treaty making, residential schools and the Sixties Scoop have resulted in considerable discriminatory impacts that are in fact intergenerational (Plan to End Aboriginal Homelessness in Calgary, p. 1).
It is further important to highlight that being homeless can be experienced from diverse perspectives: cultural, spiritual or emotional. It is more than a loss of housing. The impact of colonization, residential schooling, intergenerational trauma, ongoing discrimination and racism in Canadian society has contributed to the ongoing systematic marginalization of Indigenous people, including Indigenous youth (Calgary’s Updated Plan to End Homelessness, p. 23).
Recognizing these critical issues, A Way Home is working to complement this toolkit with a more robust Indigenous module, which includes resources specific to Indigenous youth homelessness.
A Way Home is a national coalition dedicated to preventing, reducing and ending youth homelessness in Canada. Through a ‘collective impact’ framework we inspire and enable communities and all levels of government to organize, plan and implement strategies to address youth homelessness in a coordinated, measurable and impactful way. By strengthening families and building the assets and resilience of youth, we can help young people avoid homelessness and make a healthy transition to adulthood.
As a coalition, we draw on the strengths of leading national organizations such as Raising the Roof, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH), The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, Egale Canada and the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness. Each activity within the constellation allows for cross-sectoral partnership and the opportunity to get the ‘unusual suspects’ at the table. The work of A Way Home is achieved by building on existing strengths, community engagement and innovation. The coalition is dedicated to building a strong and emerging commitment, across the country, to end youth homelessness and encourage alignment of the strategies and resources of leading players seeking to address homelessness in Canada.
A Way Home offers communities across Canada a range of tools and strategies to support the national movement to end youth homelessness, including:
- Collective impact, ‘theory of change,’ implementation support and opportunities for implementation grants delivered in partnership with the McConnell Foundation’s Youth Collective Impact Initiatives;
- Assistance to local communities and ongoing support for coordinators and backbone functions;
- Program model resources – toolkits and technical support for adapting and implementing effective program models; and
- Increased connection to government systems to support community-driven responses.
Coalition members collaborate to provide a range of resources and technical supports to assist communities to plan and implement strategies to prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness and to adapt effective program models and interventions to support these plans. Technical supports include tools, toolkits, webinars, example plans and implementation strategies.
For more information on A Way’s Home’s work and supports, see http://awayhome.ca/.
This toolkit is not intended to replace resources that already exist; rather, it is designed to provide an overview of the essentials involved in developing a plan to end youth homelessness. As a starting point, we will outline some basics on youth homelessness, along with approaches to address it. This will set the context for further guidance on developing a youth plan.
What is youth homelessness?
Considerable work has been done on defining youth homelessness consistently at a national level. The national definition of youth homelessness advanced by the COH is as follows:
We strongly urge communities to consider adopting the national definition of youth homelessness to ensure consistency across Canada.
How many youth experience homelessness?
Though no single definitive source on the prevalence of youth homelessness exists, the State of Homelessness in Canada 2013 report estimates that at least 35,000 young people experience homelessness annually – or 6,000 youth on any given night.
More reliable information on the prevalence and characteristics of homeless youth will emerge thanks to major research efforts underway, including:
- National Point-in-Time Homeless Counts – undertaken in 2016 across Canadian communities using standard methods and
- National Youth Homelessness Survey – results from across Canadian communities expected for release in 2016 outlining detailed analysis of characteristics and needs of youth experiencing homelessness.
Why is youth homelessness distinct?
Research has consistently shown that the causes and impacts of youth homelessness are distinct from adult homelessness, thus the plans and interventions we use must be correspondingly distinct and tailored to youth. Youth experience homelessness in distinct ways; they are often less visible on the street and more likely to ‘couch surf.’ This is particularly common in smaller, rural and remote communities, where homelessness is generally less visible. Youth are often reported to be homeless as a result of abuse in the home, which leads to notable movement and transience as they seek a safe place to live outside of their familial home.
Youth are extremely vulnerable because they are at an early life stage, still developing cognitively, physically, emotionally and socially. For many young people who experience homelessness, these challenges are often complicated by the fact that they are simultaneously dealing with life-altering events such as recent trauma and/or violence. Youth homelessness exists within a broad and complex spectrum of circumstances. Youth experiencing homelessness are precariously housed – couch surfing, staying in youth and adult shelters or sleeping rough and are often discharged into homelessness from public institutions and systems, including child intervention and foster care.
In some communities, Indigenous, LGBTQ2S, immigrant and visible minority youth are overrepresented. With respect to Indigenous youth, the interrelated issues of poverty, domestic, violence, trauma and abuse and ongoing discrimination and lack of cultural connections further exacerbate the experience of housing stress.
Youth who identify as LGBTQ2S make up 25–40% of the youth homeless population, compared to only 5–10% of the general population. LGBTQ2S youth experience the additional layer of challenges faced by those with sexual orientations and gender identities that are different from the mainstream. LGBTQ2S youth are over-represented among the population experiencing homelessness as a result of homophobia and transphobia in the home and across the service and housing systems. This in turn impacts the development of responses and interventions.
As the Homeless Hub notes, youth often lack the experience and skills necessary to live independently, particularly those under the age of majority. Youth’s physical, mental, social and emotional development impacts their needs and the type of interventions best suited to house and support them further. One cannot assume the needs of a 13 year old are equivalent to those of a 24 year old, for instance.
The causes of youth homelessness are distinct and primarily underlined by family conflict; many are fleeing abuse or leaving the care of child welfare services. Homelessness for youth goes beyond a loss of stable housing: it is the loss of a home in which they are embedded in relations of dependence. This creates an interruption and potential rupture in social relations with parents and caregivers, family members, friends, neighbours and community. A high percentage of homeless youth were also previously in the care of child protection services, making system responses a priority in any efforts to end youth homelessness.
In Coming of Age: Reimagining the Response to Youth Homelessness in Canada, Dr. Stephen Gaetz argues that ending youth homelessness is not simply assuming that youth will never need emergency services again, but rather that we develop strategies to resolve a broad social problem that traps young people in an ongoing state of homelessness. When young people come to depend on emergency services without access to permanent and age-appropriate housing and necessary supports, this leads to declining health and well-being and most certainly to an uncertain future. An alternative is to look at approaches that emphasize prevention and/or interventions that lead to appropriate housing options with supports (2014: 2).
It's important to highlight that the main shift advanced by a plan to end youth homelessness refocuses our efforts on prevention as opposed to emergency supports. This represents a new way of thinking about youth homelessness, which may challenge the prevailing norm in a community. Rather than ‘managing’ homelessness through emergency services, we are proposing a concerted focus on prevention.
A strong prevention approach requires a coordinated and strategic systems approach and as a consequence, must engage, include and mandate action from mainstream systems and departments of government as well as the homeless-serving sector. No solution to end homelessness can or should depend wholly on the efforts of those in the homeless-serving sector.
Preventing youth homelessness, then, means doing things differently.
What is youth homelessness prevention?
Primary prevention means working upstream to prevent new instances of homelessness through identifying and reducing risks that may increase the likelihood that individuals and families become homeless. Primary prevention strategies can be aimed at individuals, families or whole communities. Primary homeless prevention includes the following:
- Broad, population-based approaches intended to address risk factors well before they have an impact. This includes poverty reduction, ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing, addressing interpersonal violence and anti-discrimination work.
- Systems-based prevention to stem the flow of individuals and families leaving institutional care and falling into homelessness. This includes a policy framework and discharge planning and supports targeting individuals leaving institutional settings such as child protection, corrections and mental health inpatient facilities.
- Targeted interventions aimed at sub-populations that are at higher risk of homelessness. These strategies are intended to address risk factors such as income precariousness, family conflict and violence, mental health or addictions, criminal involvement or dropping out of school, for instance. Interventions are targeted to those broadly at risk (but not necessarily imminently at risk) and can include school-based early intervention programs, Family First supports, conflict mediation, etc. that are usually delivered in the community.
Secondary prevention means early intervention strategies when young people have recently become homeless or are at imminent risk. These early intervention strategies seek to keep young people ’in place’ in their communities where they have natural supports, divert them from emergency shelters and mainstream homelessness services, help them stay in school and work with their families so that young people can safely remain/return home or move into their own accommodation in a safe and planned way.
Secondary prevention strategies typically require systems integration and coordination (coordinated intake, shared information management systems) as well as specific case management interventions designed to avoid the experience of homelessness and/or reduce the time spent homeless. In other words, the goal here is not to have young people avoid homelessness on their own (‘bootstrap’ their way up), but rather shore up their natural supports in the community to help them avoid entering and becoming entrenched in the homelessness ‘system.’ Emergency services and supports (shelters, day programs, soup kitchens, etc.) are important community resources and can be considered preventive (early intervention) if they proactively assist young people through case management to return home, address family conflict or move out of homelessness as quickly as possible.
Tertiary prevention means ensuring that young people who have experienced homelessness exit that situation as quickly as possible and do not return to homelessness. Housing First for Youth strategies are designed to provide stability, reduce the risk of future homelessness and help ensure a safe and nurturing transition to adulthood and independence.
For more on prevention see http://homelesshub.ca/solutions/prevention.
Elements of youth plans
A quick internet search will reveal a number of plans to end youth homelessness, several of which are from Canadian communities. Though research on successful youth plans does not exist at this time, we do know the characteristics of solid community planning apply to youth plans as well. Look to the A Way Home website to see the various youth plans currently published.
An effective youth plan:
- Includes a statement of guiding principles and core values,
- Engages the necessary players from the community, all levels of government and the non-profit and private sectors to work toward real reductions in homelessness,
- Depends on collaboration among a wide range of stakeholders including funders, governments, service providers (mainstream as well as homeless-serving organizations) and those affected by homelessness,
- Articulates necessary actions at the service, local and government levels,
- Involves young people in planning, delivery and evaluation,
- Has clearly articulated goals and objectives, timelines, responsibilities, benchmarks and measurable targets,
- Outlines the resources needed for implementation, including projected budgets and cost-savings,
- Provides direction on implementation actions and governance options to move actions forward,
- Leads to real changes in young people’s lives in implementation and
- Is a ‘living plan’ renewed on an ongoing basis to ensure relevance and progress is maintained.
What a plan can & cannot do
It bears emphasizing that a plan will NOT in and of itself end youth homelessness. A plan should serve three purposes:
- Validate the good work that is occurring in response to this issue,
- Set clear direction for the necessary system changes and shifts required and
- Grant permission to move forward, innovate and create.
Specifically, a plan can kick-start a systems response in your community that can transform how services are delivered and coordinated. A plan can be a vehicle for system reform as well, particularly given the role of child intervention, justice and health in the lives of youth.
It is also important to have the foresight to consider implementation from the start. Aligning the youth plan to other initiatives underway, such as general homelessness strategies, child intervention system reform efforts, poverty reduction strategies, etc. can ensure these opportunities are both leveraged and reinforced by the youth plan.
The plan can be a vehicle for action; as such, the planning process can be conceived as an intentional relationship and trust-building effort to support eventual implementation. Those leading the development of plans should keep an eye on how the process can align people and resources for implementation. This toolkit provides guidance on ensuring you are setting the right conditions to support plan implementation. Without a vigilant eye on implementation from the start, the best-laid plans remain just plans.
Those leading planning should manage expectations of stakeholders around what a plan can actually achieve. This means being very clear from the start on what the scope of the youth plan is and, importantly, is not. Ensuring that stakeholders are clear on the objectives of the planning process and can refer back to these throughout will be essential to staying on track.
Despite our best efforts however, barriers will emerge throughout this process. You are effectively competing for limited resources – and if youth win, it can be seen that other groups may have lost. How do we communicate and legitimize the focus on youth in a scarcity context?
In the process of developing a plan, you may:
- Fail to include an important stakeholder in your consultations,
- Misinterpret the research,
- Not have data necessary for critical analyses,
- Have inadequate resources to develop and/or implement the plan,
- Fail to effectively engage a key public system partner,
- Lack a visible champion in community,
- Secure minimal support from the broader community,
- Experience changes in political leadership or
- All of the above.
These experiences are not unusual; in fact, you should expect them. Building a supportive planning team and coordinating infrastructure, maintaining open lines of communication with stakeholders and having a strong foundation for the work based on a common vision and shared values will go a long way toward weathering such challenges.
Do you need to have a specific plan to end youth homelessness?
As noted, the needs of youth are distinct and there is evidence of improved impact when an explicit focus on age-appropriate housing and supports is in place. However, that does not always require a youth plan per se. Your community may already have measures underway to address youth homelessness as part of broader homelessness strategies. Arguably, those strategies are working well – or not.
A youth plan is very useful in particular circumstances such as:
- There is interest in youth homelessness, but not necessarily knowledge of the specific actions needed to address it;
- Willingness to shift the homeless response from managing the crisis (through emergency services) to a prevention focus that includes moving young people out of homelessness rapidly;
- The community has the infrastructure and resources to take on the coordination and development of a youth-specific strategy;
- The community has a means of advancing implementation of a youth plan and monitoring progress;
- There is already significant movement on youth homelessness, which could benefit from strategic coordination to maximize impact;
- Political changes may be underway which could create a structural opening to advance system reform and funding asks to support an end to youth homelessness; and
- An infusion of resources (government, private, etc.) has been introduced that could be molded to advance ending youth homelessness goals if community leadership coalesced.
It is important to be mindful of your community’s readiness and local context when selecting your course of action. A plan may even derail community efforts if undertaken without proper consultation and buy-in from critical stakeholders, if development is lacking a solid evidence base and/or there is no foresight to implementation.
In certain cases, you may find that the youth planning effort may be challenged by other initiatives underway – particularly those focused on ending chronic and episodic homelessness. These initiatives should not work at odds with one another. Communities and governments can have more than one priority in their efforts to address homelessness.
‘Collective impact’ is a useful framework to help you consider the key facets of building a movement to end youth homelessness. However, building a youth plan is only one step in a collective impact initiative; collective impact is a much more complex, long-term cross-sectoral mobilization effort to bring about social change. The goal of collective impact in this instance is to end youth homelessness. A youth plan can certainly contribute to such an effort, but it will not in and of itself bring about the desired social change.
Collective impact provides the key conditions for success you want to consider in the plan development process. In many ways, the ultimate success of a planning effort is not the plan itself, but the collective stakeholders’ capacity to deliver on its articulated common goals, towards ending youth homelessness. This is an important consideration for communities embarking on this journey: your guidepost is NOT the plan itself, it is your ability to leverage the plan development – educating others and consolidating multiple policy levers and implementation processes to make a real impact on youth homelessness. If a plan is a hindrance to this ultimate objective, then it may not be the right means of engendering the desired change in your community.
Developing a ‘theory of change’ is useful at this stage and can be revisited throughout your planning process, to clarify the impact sought and how it will be achieved. The McConnell Foundation’s Innoweave provides an excellent exercise to develop your theory of change. Work through the short exercise with the planning group and consider introducing it as part of your consultation process.
Table 2: Innoweave Theory of Change Exercise
Figure 1: Five Conditions for Collective Impact
Successful collective impact initiatives typically have five conditions that together, produce true alignment and powerful results:
- Common agenda;
- Shared measurement systems;
- Mutually reinforcing activities;
- Continuous communication; and
- Backbone support organizations.
These conditions for success provide a useful roadmap for your plan development process. It is wise to build your approach in such a way that it creates the conditions for success of the movement to end youth homelessness, rather than strictly looking at the production of a plan as your only objective.
Table 3: Collective Impact Success Factors & Youth Plans
What does it take to end youth homelessness? The answer to this question should shape the main tenets of your plan and how you go about developing it. While there are a wide range of options, there are common elements that should be included in your plan, whether you’re a small rural community or large urban centre; whether Indigenous youth or LGBTQ2S youth are overrepresented, etc.
If your community believes the answer is to develop more emergency services, such as shelters, or that the homeless-serving system can do it independently without changes to the operation of the wider public systems, your plan will be incomplete, which will lead to gaps in implementation and hinder your efforts to end youth homelessness.
The Reimagining our Response report contains a commonly used strategic framework for developing and implementing plans to end youth homelessness. Edmonton, Kamloops and St. John’s specifically cite this report as grounding to their youth plans.
Gaetz proposes the following steps towards ending youth homelessness:
- Develop a plan;
- Create an integrated system response;
- Facilitate active, strategic and coordinated engagement by all levels of government and interdepartmental collaboration;
- Adopt a youth development orientation; and
- Incorporate research, data gathering and information sharing.
Gaetz’s framework, a reorientation of the current response, involves three key approaches: a strong emphasis on prevention and strategies that move people quickly out of homelessness into appropriate accommodation with supports, reinforced by emergency services.
Figure 2: Prevention-focused Approach
To operationalize a prevention-focused approach, your youth plan must cover the four Youth Plan Priorities. These four elements are synthesized from the existing body of evidence and are commonly found in existing plans. While you should adapt these locally, according to your community’s priorities and needs, the general approach should remain consistent across communities.
Figure 3: Youth Plan Priority Areas
Prevention can include measures that specifically target youth at risk of homelessness, through such programs as family mediation/reunification, working with the education system to identify those at risk earlier and developing policy options that can ensure youth are better supported in transitioning from foster care. The focus here is working upstream to identify those at risk of homelessness and putting in place interventions that effectively mitigate such risks.
System planning and integration refers to the type of reorganization actions you will need to introduce to ensure your local system serves youth effectively and efficiently. This includes introducing ways of managing the flow of clients better through coordinated entry, having consistent performance management and quality assurance standards in place, but also developing processes to link the youth-serving system to the public systems as well. Discharge protocols for youth coming out of treatment or finding ways to coordinate services between diverse systems can be included in this priority area.
Housing and supports refers to the network of services and accommodation options necessary to end homelessness for youth; diverse and appropriate housing and supports (case management, income assistance, education, health care, etc.) ensure that once rehoused, youth do not fall back into homelessness. To achieve this, you may need to expand particular program types or introduce new program models and housing stock. You may also need to rethink how services are delivered in practice. The way your emergency shelters and transitional housing program operate can also be re-envisioned to move youth into permanent housing quicker, for instance. The Housing First Framework for Youth provides guidance on housing options and supports designed to meet the needs of young people in a way that supports not only housing retention but also a supportive transition to adulthood.
Leadership, engagement and resources are needed to execute the vision set out in the plan. This includes funding, organizational infrastructure, champions to promote the solutions to diverse audiences and shared accountability among stakeholders for ending youth homelessness. Additionally, you may include public education measures to raise awareness about preventing and ending youth homelessness. You may also plan for a research agenda to enhance knowledge about the issue and advance a policy agenda to various levels of government.
Table 4: Priority Areas Resources
What does a system planning and integration approach to youth homelessness entail? Efforts to end homelessness using system planning have been documented generally, but less has been done on youth-specific system planning.
As per the definition, a system is the integrated whole comprised of defined components working towards a common end. System planning requires a way of thinking that recognizes the basic components of a particular system and understands how these relate to one another as well as their basic function as part of the whole. Processes that ensure alignment across the system are integral to ensure components work together for maximum impact.
Applying this concept to youth homelessness, a homeless-serving system comprises a diversity of local or regional service delivery components serving youth who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness.
Integration is about working together to improve results, which can take the form of a collaborative arrangement. System-level integration can entail centralized management and funding, while at the service level it can involve the coordinated delivery of services both within (vertical integration) and/or between (horizontal integration) sectors and agencies.
A plan to end youth homelessness is a call to address service and policy coordination and integration differently; it entails the restructuring of an entire local system's approach to youth homelessness following a new vision, as well as the integration of that system with others targeting homeless and at-risk youth. System planning requires a reorganization of the service delivery landscape using these shared principles, tying together the activities of diverse stakeholders across diverse systems toward the shared goal of reducing and preventing youth homelessness.
Housing and Urban Development’s evaluation of homeless-serving systems in the U.S. found that successful integration was achieved when specific strategies were applied between systems, such as common policies and protocols, shared information, coordinated service delivery and training. In addition, the following were also recommended:
- Having staff with the responsibility to promote systems/service integration;
- Creating a local interagency coordinating body;
- Having a centralized authority for the homeless assistance system;
- Co-locating mainstream services within homeless-specific agencies and programs; and
- Adopting and using an interagency information management system.
These integration strategies can be applied in a range of contexts to improve outcomes, for instance programs within the same agency, between different agencies and between sectors of agencies.
The scale at which integration efforts are implemented will determine which strategies are best suited to achieve intended outcomes; further, the types of services that require integration will further impact the tailored approach moving forward. Several U.S. studies suggest that service coordination closest to the client is more effective than broader top-down structural integration measures in terms of individual housing and health outcomes. Ultimately we need to ensure client and structural strategies are aligned first and foremost with impacting client-level results.
Table 5: Integration Strategies
The table below summarizes the essentials of system planning and integration through a youth lens.
Table 6: System Planning Elements
 Browne, Gina, Dawn Kingston, Valerie Grdisa, and Maureen Markle-Reid. 2007. "Conceptualization and measurement of integrated human service networks for evaluation." International Journal of Integrated Care no. Oct.-Dec.:e51.
 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. 2002. Evaluation of Continuums of Care For Homeless People Final Report.
Hambrick, Ralph, and Debra Rog. 2000. "The Pursuit of Coordination: The Organizational Dimension in the Response to Homelessness." Policy Studies Journal no. 28 (2):353-364.
 Evans, T., Neale, K., Buultjens, J., & Davies, T. (2011). Service integration in a regional homelessness service system. Lismore, New South Wales, Australia: Northern Rivers Social Development Council. p. 30.
Effectively, the key elements of homeless-serving systems will have to be reformulated and conjoined with partner regions to develop a streamlined, integrated response to youth homelessness for rural areas. The key homeless system components will need to be extended across the target region in service delivery. This may mean a further reach from existing community providers into other rural areas, rural providers delivering locally or via urban-rural partnerships.
To interpret system of care components for youth in a regional context, a number of issues should be considered.
Table 7: Homeless-system & Regional Integration Elements
Regional Coordination: To fully implement a regional system planning approach, particularly in small rural communities, coordination infrastructure must be developed to enable system planning and integrated service delivery. Certain functions may be centralized to maximize impact, though each regional partner will maintain an autonomous role in the consortium. The backbone supports involved in implementing a regional plan to end youth homelessness will need to be responsive and representative of a broader collective of stakeholders across localities.
System Planning & Integration: A regional youth plan will have to address system coordination, research, best practices, HMIS/HIFIS, funding coordination and policy analysis to support an end to youth homelessness across localities. The plan will also have to focus strategies on integration within regions and across public systems relevant to youth.
Funding Coordination: You may also need to think about how the plan can advance processes related to program performance management and improvement that are regional in nature to ensure system planning occurs across communities.
Regional HMIS/HIFIS Operations: If implementing HIFIS or HMIS for a larger region, appropriate staffing and training support will be needed. Analysis of system data regionally will need to be undertaken to enable performance management and ongoing strategy development in support of the youth plan.
Research & Homeless Counts: You may want to engage regional partners to develop and implement a research agenda to provide a better understanding of youth homelessness across the region and its unique dynamics in each locality. This will include analysis of HMIS and homeless count data, but will be enhanced by additional population-specific research on key issues, such as LGBTQ2S homelessness, Indigenous youth homelessness, migration trends, etc.
Training & Capacity Building: In terms of training and capacity building, assigning common training and technical assistance needs to the broader regional consortium can ensure local needs are met without adding to the burden on a single agency.
Quality Assurance & Performance Management: Quality assurance pieces that are common to regional partners can also be strengthened by collective work on implementing the youth plan. Assessment and referral protocols, standards of service quality and indicators of success can be developed with a regional lens, even if locally key funders take on appropriate monitoring in the day-to-day work.
Regional Service Delivery: The key elements of homeless-serving systems will have to be reformulated and conjoined with partner regions to develop a streamlined, integrated response to youth homelessness for rural areas. The key homeless system components will need to be extended across the target region in service delivery. This may mean a further reach from existing community providers into other rural areas, rural providers delivering locally or via urban-rural partnerships.
To interpret system of care components for youth in a regional context, a number of issues should be considered:
- Is there sufficient demand for a service component in a particular site?
- Is it cost efficient to centralize or decentralize service?
- Can outreach services be provided across communities?
- Which services are best centralized in the urban centre?
- Are there sufficient capacity/resources to deliver services locally?
It’s essential that you consider how the proposed direction of the youth plan aligns with the broader community’s work on homelessness. If there is a plan to end homelessness, you will need to outline how the youth plan aligns with it. You will have to be sensitive to the politics involved vis-à-vis other groups who may be advancing solutions for other populations, like women or, Indigenous people. It is an unfortunate reality that such priorities are often pitted against each other in the competition for limited resources and visibility.
Your community likely has, at minimum, an HPS community plan in place. Given the focus on chronic and episodic homelessness, you will have to make a case that funds should be allocated to youth even in cases where they don’t fit the federal definition of chronic and episodic. However, it is likely that your plan will include a funding ask for your provincial/territorial and local government as well, where the accountability for youth services, homeless supports, income assistance, etc., often lies.
If your community does not have a plan to end homelessness, you may be able to leverage the youth plan development process to highlight the need for this. You can make the case that by addressing youth homelessness first, your community can build an approach that can be revised and applied to other populations over time as well.
Since the youth plan is focused on addressing homelessness, it is important to also consider what general homelessness plans call for in terms of essential elements. In its document A Plan Not a Dream, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness provides guidance around four key elements of plans to end homelessness. The CAEH built its approach on the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ Ten Essentials Toolkit for Ending Homelessness.
How do you know your community is ready to undertake a large-scale initiative to end youth homelessness? Given that ending youth homelessness is a collective impact endeavour, your group can benefit from a readiness assessment to identify deficits you may need to address before moving the planning process forward.
The FSG Collective Impact Readiness Assessment is an excellent tool to gauge whether your community currently has critical elements/processes in place. It can help you identify whether significant time and resources will be needed to either begin or complete critical processes. A similar tool from FSG also points readers to resources to complement their efforts. Another self-assessment was developed by Innoweave to help members of a collaborative reflect on their readiness to take on collective impact. These tools are useful to give you a sense of readiness and identify areas of strength or where additional efforts are needed as you take on the actual planning work from a collective impact lens.
The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness has developed a Community Self-Assessment intended to stimulate thinking around key concepts critical to ending homelessness. This tool uses factors identified through the U.S. 100,000 Homes Campaign to be associated with higher housing placement rates for chronic and vulnerable homeless people and essential elements of system planning in a Housing First context. It aims to gauge a community’s current status against the framework, but also acts as a means of beginning the long-term work to set up new ways of delivering service and coordinating local homelessness responses. The resource is set up as a workbook with pointed questions that are intended to prompt these strategic conversations to occur in your community.
The following characteristics of communities that are effective at ending homelessness can be useful to help you think through community capacity around ending youth homelessness, as opposed to taking on plan development. The list below is intended to help you think through elements of a youth plan based on CAEH’s Community Self-Assessment. These can also help you think through community readiness locally to take on the youth plan work.
You may find the following self-assessment useful to gauge ‘readiness’ for collective impact by identifying which preconditions the group is well prepared for or will need further investment in.
- Current Situation Strong: These elements/processes are either fully in place or sufficient progress has been made in them so that they are operationally functional in the context of the initiative.
- Significant Investment Needed: The group does not currently have these elements/processes in place. There is an incomplete or unclear plan to accomplish this goal and/or significant time and resources will need to be allocated to either begin or complete this process.
- Some Investment Needed: While these elements/processes are not fully in place, significant thought and planning has gone into these elements. Time and resources have been allocated and clear progress is being made.
The first assessment highlights key elements supporting readiness to take on the plan development work, versus the second assessment focuses on implementing a plan to end youth homelessness. Together, these tools will give you a sense of the work ahead and may be useful to come back to as you continue this journey.
Table 8: Community Readiness for Collective Impact Work on Developing & Implementing a Plan to End Youth Homelessness
*Note that the COH is working to develop a national definition of “Functional Zero” that will help you think through the key elements needed and measures you may want to include in developing plan targets. Also look to examples of performance measures in the Developing Targets and Performance Indicators section.
So do you really need a plan?
After all that, how do you know that a youth plan is the right thing to do for your community? Alternatively, when does a plan NOT make sense?
Though there is no yes/no quiz to tell you a definitive answer, a Collective Impact Community Readiness Assessment (see Section 2) can inform your decision. The important point is that you are aiming to build a movement, not strictly a plan. You may also consider alternatives to a youth plan, as other communities have successfully done to move the agenda on ending youth homelessness forward.
- A plan for a plan. In St. John’s, Newfoundland, Choices for Youth – a lead service delivery agency – worked with national experts to convene a roundtable on youth homelessness responses and developed a call to action to the provincial government asking for a strategy and resources aligned with best practices.
St. John’s approach leveraged existing research in a relatively short timeframe (about one year) to create a sense of urgency, engage provincial stakeholders, propose an evidence-based direction and advance system reform. In this case, rather than developing a city-specific youth plan, Choices for Youth and its partners launched a document calling for a provincial plan, which laid out the essentials of what that provincial plan should also entail.
- A youth strategy within a plan to end homelessness. Another option is to develop a youth strategy within the context of a broader community plan to end homelessness. Edmonton’s approach was to work with stakeholders to develop the broad directions of a youth-specific strategy that dovetailed the pre-existing plan to end homelessness, rather than create a parallel plan.
This approach allowed the community to focus on implementation fairly quickly, as it built on the infrastructure already developed by Homeward Trust on system planning and integration, information management and service design.
- Piloting while planning. Another option to consider is to begin implementation while developing the plan. In Alberta’s case, when the 7 Cities began experimenting with Housing First, there were no formal plans to end homelessness in place. That did not stop communities from adapting innovative, evidence-based practices while working on the research and development of their longer-term strategies.
Of course, there is a risk involved as the new pilot initiative may not fit perfectly with the eventual plan priorities – yet the benefits of demonstrating success while developing a plan cannot be underestimated either. In many ways, Alberta’s 7 Cities were successful in advancing the needs of enhanced provincial funding for Housing First because of the success of these early pilots and reinforced through the provincial commitment to end homelessness.
- A plan within a plan. Alberta has experienced success in addressing homelessness through the 10-Year Plan. Since its inception in 2009, more than 12,250 homeless Albertans have received housing and supports and approximately 73% remain successfully housed, but we can do more. The 10-Year Plan states that Albertans from specialized groups, including homeless youth, are dealing with particularly challenging issues and require targeted responses to be rehoused. Supporting Healthy and Successful Transitions to Adulthood: A Plan to Prevent and Reduce Youth Homelessness aligns and is integral to work being led through the 10-Year Plan. The Youth Plan represents the next step in the 10-Year Plan and is a targeted response to a specialized population.