Writing the Plan
So, what does a youth plan actually look like? You’ve probably seen examples from other communities (see the resource section on the A Way Home website). This section will walk you through the key elements of a youth plan and provides you technical guidance on how to develop one based on best practices and information you gathered locally. It will point you to further reading, where available.
In some ways, knowing what a youth plan could look like – or working with the end in mind – can help you think through your consultation and research processes and inform your workplan.
A plan to end youth homelessness is not drastically different from a strategic plan or business plan; however, its scope is much wider than that of a single agency or government department/ministry. The plan takes a systems view and provides guidance to a particular community (city, region, province, country) on tackling a complex social issue. Thus, while elements of the plan content may seem familiar at first glance, the scope is much broader because of the diverse systems and stakeholders it aims to coalesce into a coherent strategy.
Plans tend to be between 50-100 pages. They usually include significant information and analysis; thus, communities often develop executive summaries and other complementary communication materials based on the plan. These complementary materials ensure that the information effectively reaches a broad audience.
While every plan is distinct, the sections remain more or less consistent. Below, we provide you with a sample outline of a fictional plan.
Table 24: Sample Plan Overview
Remember, drafting the plan is not a linear process. You may find yourself having to return to the research or consultation phases to fill in gaps or re-examine your assumptions.
Often, the lead writer(s) of the plan hold(s) the reins on pulling the various sources of information, collected throughout the process, into a coherent direction. However, the plan writer does not wholly determine the suggested course of action. It is their role to work with the broader planning group to affirm the direction taken and even go back to community stakeholders for further input.
If you consider the key elements of the plan at the same time as building your research and consultation processes, you will be able to develop the content of your plan as you go through the development process, rather than waiting until the end. For instance, it is best to gain input on the vision for the initiative from a broad stakeholder group rather than having the plan writer come up with it on their own, then try to shop it out in the final editing stages.
Carefully consider who will write the plan. Is it the project manager? The steering committee members? The consultant? Or a combination thereof? You will likely have a number of authors that contribute to the plan content, but it is wise to have a lead writer accountable for pulling it all together in a timely fashion, ensuring there is a common thread tying various content pieces. The ideal plan writer is an effective communicator and able to distil complex concepts into concise communications.
The plan is largely a technical report. Therefore, it is important that your writer has the skills to develop the content based on the quantitative and qualitative data available. It is always a ‘bonus’ to have someone who can actually take on the financial and performance modelling. If this is not feasible, you can consider bringing in outside technical assistance. Nonetheless, the lead plan writer must be sufficiently proficient in these areas in order to develop a cohesive, sensible narrative.
To develop broader communication materials, look to individuals with communications and marketing backgrounds to assist you. They can turn the content of the plan into brochures, websites, at-a-glance documents and infographics. Develop these marketing materials as part of the launch of the final report, once the plan is complete.
As you work through the data you gathered from your research and consultation process, consider emerging themes that are common throughout the material and examine these against the aforementioned priority areas. There may be variations on the priority areas outlined in this toolkit, but in some way you will need to address these issues in your plan’s proposed approach.
Various communities use different terms to highlight the broad priority areas and associated actions. There is no standard but what is key is that you have a way of differentiating between the two and ensuring that your shorter term activities feed into larger priorities.
The detailed actions associated with your goals break down the priorities into smaller pieces that can be operationalized. These should be action oriented and reflect both best practices and community-identified needs. In other words, just because a national report identifies a particular program as a promising practice, doesn’t mean it necessarily fits within your local context. It is the job of the planning team to articulate relevant goals for your community. Be strategic and succinct in how these are presented, but provide sufficient rationale as to why the goals within the plan are priorities. Further, build on existing efforts and link with ongoing government or community initiatives where possible.
The table below, adapted from the Calgary Plan to End Youth Homelessness Refresh Strategy Overview (2016), provides examples of the types of goals often found in youth plans. If your plan has a specific focus on Indigenous homelessness, LGBTQ2S youth, newcomers, etc., you may want to delve in deeper into these issues throughout the plan. In the case of recommended actions, you can also consider having a separate strategy on Indigenous youth, for instance, or integrate the focus throughout the goals.
Table 25: Common Plan Objectives
Considerations for a focus on Indigenous youth
An example of a youth plan that focuses on Indigenous youth is Calgary’s 2011 Youth Plan. During consultations for the plan’s development, the Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness provided the backbone supports leading the work (Calgary Homeless Foundation). It includes several elements that should be considered in any plan involving Indigenous people, as outlined in the Calgary Plan to End Aboriginal Homelessness (note that the original input from the ASCHH was specific to Aboriginal people, not Indigenous – hence we kept the original term):
- To end Aboriginal homelessness and other housing issues while understanding cultural competencies and ensuring cultural sensitivities through collaborative community efforts and awareness of cultural identity; maintain safe and culturally appropriate housing… allows for not just purchasing, but renting and maintenance as well;
- Expand and support existing organizations and agencies that provide housing to homeless Aboriginal youth and children;
- Centralize the intake system to ensure Aboriginal identification is captured and utilized;
- Establish Aboriginal transition/halfway houses/group homes for Aboriginal youth leaving institutions, like ILS home or Wellington House, when leaving foster care, CYOC, hospitals, etc.;
- Establish safe, culturally relevant and sensitive discharge plans, so no Aboriginal person is discharged into homelessness or unsafe housing; do not want to discharge anyone into an unsafe (physically, or otherwise) situation;
- Initiate greater consultation with Aboriginal organizations and agencies in the creation of HMIS (and incorporation of culturally sensitive questions at intake);
- Talk to and learn from the Aboriginal people who have been previously or are currently homeless or have faced housing issues;
- It is far too subjective to measure success, instead we should find out from our people what they feel is and is not working, best practices and where improvements can be made;
- Increase competent Aboriginal workforce and treatment facilities, with cultural, spiritual and emotional perspectives (harm reduction);
- Ensure all four levels of government are involved in ensuring Aboriginal inclusion;
- Create an urban Aboriginal cultural support system/centre, with culturally specific wrap around programs;
- Cannot just be managed on a case-by-case situation – should be available for prevention – proactive rather than reactive approach;
- Provide more opportunities for urban Aboriginal people to earn income and receive education;
- More engagement and involvement with stakeholders, leaders, committee members and First Nation communities. Discussions around off-reserve funding availability;
- Educate the community about poverty, homelessness and Aboriginal issues through Alberta-specific workers at community resource centres;
- Will need to hire more Aboriginal people to work with existing centres;
- Build a physical epicentre, like Thunderbird Lodge in Winnipeg or the Anishnabe Health and Wellness Centre in downtown Toronto; and
- Ensure Calgary Homeless Foundation includes two Aboriginal positions on its board – one on-reserve and one off-reserve to ensure a voice.
In response to these recommendations, Calgary’s Youth Plan places specific emphasis on Aboriginal youth homelessness in Calgary. The plan calls for engaging key stakeholders in a collaborative community-response model, with critical attention given to meet the needs of diverse communities including Aboriginal people, youth with disabilities, newcomers and LGBTQ2S youth.
There is a focus on increasing supports, awareness and services dedicated to Aboriginal young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness in Calgary, including:
- Conducting further research about the pathways into Aboriginal youth homelessness to help ensure services dedicated to Aboriginal young people (at risk of or experiencing homelessness) will be carried out in consideration of structural factors.
- Recognizing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal young people that are at risk of or experiencing homelessness, the youth plan adopts the following major milestone:
- By 2018, Aboriginal homeless young people will not be overrepresented in the homeless population. According to The City of Calgary 2008 Biennial Homeless Count, Aboriginal young people and children represent 28% of the homeless population under 24 years old. Census Canada 2006 data revealed that two percent of the Calgary population self-identify as Aboriginal.
- In conjunction with the broader Calgary 10 Year Plan, the youth plan ensuring continued implementation of case management standards for ensuring that:
- Young Aboriginal people have control over the planning of their lives,
- Young Aboriginal people are receiving services with contextual considerations, including pathways into homelessness for Aboriginal people. Specifically, the role of intergenerational trauma specific to the effects of colonization must be addressed to ensure adequate cultural connectedness and therefore healing for Aboriginal people.
As you develop your plan goals, you may want to go a step further and develop a funding ask as well. Considering developing an evidenced-based cost argument. If the vision set out in the plan were to be realised, what would the impact be? This will help you build a solid business case to funders and government, but will also help you distil your goals.
Your research and consultation may have told you new housing and supports were needed, but how much of what program/housing? How much would this cost and to what effect? These are basic questions decision makers will ask, but so too will the public. Releasing a youth plan without an indication of the resources required to execute it will pose a legitimacy risk. You may be able to mitigate this by noting you will work on such questions in implementation, but there is no reason why you can’t consider including this piece of analysis during plan development.
Though other plans make it look easy, with infographics and simple dollar figures, the analysis that goes behind such business cases is no easy feat.
Here is what you need to know to get started:
First, know your limits. You and/or your team may not have the technical background to develop the necessary analysis. You may need to bring in an external expert, while making sure they walk you through the methods so you can learn for future needs. You may also not have the necessary data to complete the modelling – in such a case, you may want to suggest such analysis is done during plan implementation.
Know however, that without a solid articulation of the impact that the proposed measures will have and the cost of these, it is going to be more difficult to credibly approach decision makers to support and invest in the plan. Budgeting and impact assessment, along with scenario building, are to a large degree interconnected and are in many ways different ways of interpreting the same information, building on one another as you go.
1. Prevalence of homelessness & youth homelessness in your community
First, figure out local homelessness prevalence rates and calculate the youth prevalence from this general figure. The prevalence rate refers to the total number of sheltered and unsheltered homelessness person in your community during the course of one year. Cities usually represent this rate as a percentage of their general population – in Calgary, it is 1.4% and in Red Deer it is 0.8%.
Note that you are estimating the number of rough sleepers who would otherwise not be captured at any point during the year in the shelter data used. Ensure you account for possible duplication among diverse facilities as well.
You will also have to estimate how many of these individuals are youth (up to 24 years old). It is best to use actual shelter and rough sleeper demographics from your HMIS or HIFIS for this and if these are unavailable at least general population demographics to generate an estimate.
Below is an example of what the results of this exercise can look like.
Table 26: Estimating Youth Homelessness
2. Estimate of the at-risk population
Calculate an estimate of the total number of youth at risk of homelessness in your community. You can do this through an analysis of extreme core housing need using Census data to determine the number of individuals renting and paying more than 50% of income on shelter with low incomes (under $20,000). Break this figure out by age groups to gain a sense of the youth component.
You may also be able to complement this data with available information from public systems on youth discharges into homelessness from corrections, child protection, health, treatment, etc.
Note that because Census data is dated (2011), you will need to project current totals based on historic population growth. You can also estimate the total number of individuals from the household data by looking at census information on average household size. In this example, it was 2.3 individuals per household.
Table 27: Estimating Youth At Risk Population
3. Homelessness type and acuity among at-risk groups estimates
Using the available data, you can develop an analysis of the at-risk and homeless youth population to estimate the breakout of level of acuity.
You can use HMIS or HIFIS information to generate this estimated acuity breakout based on the most recent annual data or provide a placeholder until you have actual data from community input and service provider reports. Ensure you project population growth for the entire implementation time period to ensure adequate resources are allocated.
Looking at both calculations, we can see that we have a total of about 1,242 youth at risk of experiencing homelessness and/or who experience transitional homelessness and 53 youth who use shelters or sleep rough for a total of 1,295 total youth who may need an intervention by 2018.
Table 28: Projecting Needs
After we split out the acuity levels by homeless/at-risk groups, we have a good sense of what capacity would be needed to serve projected demand by 2018. The estimated need gives you a sense of what kind of interventions will be needed to match demand to program types.
Table 29: Estimating Need Levels
4. System capacity and performance analysis
Provide a breakdown of current homeless services and housing youth access per program type or specifically target youth and their most current performance indicators where possible. This includes such indicators as turnover rates annually, caseload capacities, bed/unit inventory, negative exits, length of stay and cost per program/housing space. Note any eligibility requirements that have an impact on youth.
To classify programs, you can use local definitions, or look to the Performance Management Toolkit for consistent definitions and benchmark indicators of performance. The turnover rate reflects how many new clients in any given year went through the program as a percentage of the total caseload capacity of the program. Negative exits represent total clients who exited to homelessness (rough sleeping, shelter, jail, etc.) as a percent of total exits in a particular year. The program space cost is calculated by dividing the annual funding by the total caseload.
In the example below, you can see, by comparing the youth caseload to the total caseload, not all programs serve youth exclusively. In fact, average caseload for youth of all programs is 29%. You will need to consider if this level of access is proportional to the estimated need, but try to dig even deeper to determine how outcomes for youth compare to those of adults. Are there subgroups of youth (Indigenous, immigrants, etc.) that differ in access and outcomes? How does this play out from a cost analysis perspective?
Table 30: System Capacity Analysis
5. Modelling solutions
Based on the previous steps, you will need to evaluate what type of interventions are best suited to ending homelessness in your community in your particular timeframe (ex. Two, five, 10 years), as well as the associated costs and capacity needs.
Surprisingly, you may find that you have adequate capacity to meet the needs of certain groups, but have performance issues that need addressing in other areas. Without this analysis, you are likely to make overly generalized recommendations, without a solid sense of cost and impact.
From the example below, you can see there will be a total of 113 youth served by 2018 if the system continues as is. We know higher acuity youth with longer homelessness histories will likely benefit from supportive housing and intensive case management (ICM). Conversely, youth who experience transitional homelessness or are at-risk of homelessness are more likely to benefit from rapid rehousing and prevention services. As a result, we can estimate that lower acuity youth at-risk/experiencing transitional homelessness will remain underserved with the current performance and capacity in the system.
By playing with the numbers, we can estimate what it would take to eliminate youth homelessness in terms of new program capacity, but also what impact enhanced performance might have on turnover and negative exits. The turnover in the model, for instance, assumes that current negative exits and turnover rates remain consistent, but what if these improved? We can model what impact enhanced performance would have. Improvements to service quality or access for youth would likely not require the same level of funding.
Once you work out some scenarios, you can also model costs for maximum impact. Capital solutions will likely be the costliest, though may be critical for particular groups of youth. You can also play with program costs to potentially create efficiencies in some cases. In the scenario below, new ICM spaces are modelled to estimate the costs of the enhancement over the set time period. This can be done with all program types, depending on need.
Table 31: Estimating Impact
Table 32: Calculating Costs
Once you’ve completed the analysis, develop a summary with a proposed course of action but also outline at least three scenarios for the consideration of the broader planning group. Ensure you provide a full assessment of risks and record all your assumptions so future work can build on your calculations in implementation. On the next page is a sample risk register from Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness.
6. Developing your funding ask
Ensure you are explicit about the costs of new operations and capital over the course of the plan’s implementation – see example below.
Table 33: Developing Funding Asks
Ideally, you will be able to outline who is expected to cover these costs – in other words, what is the ask to various government and community funders?
A solid case to funders can be made by showing the cost savings realized through implementing the plan. Unfortunately, we do not have good data at this time to develop this analysis with a youth focus. For examples for how this can be undertaken for broader populations, the Chez Soi project and several community plans are available for review such as Calgary’s plan, though these are not specifically targeted at youth.
The above section provides you a means of developing the plan progress. You can create targets around funding using this work and proposed actual number of youth you can serve pending resources. You do have the option not to include this information and instead stick to a high-level visioning document that would call for this level of analysis in implementation. However, It will be a harder sell, as you will not be able to paint a picture of how to resolve the issue in a measureable way.
Targets and progress indicators draw on these analyses to propose targets for the number of youth housed, days spent in shelter, percent discharges into homelessness from systems, etc. If you don’t have a current sense of performance in these areas, you can instead use general indicator descriptions that you can populate with real data over time. Without setting some measurable indicators however, your plan will not trigger any evidence-based means of implementation tracking either. It is best to set some performance expectations from the start.
This is also another way of showing what you mean by ending youth homelessness – how do you know you’re making progress? Ensuring stakeholders have input on this issue will also be essential to buy-in for the plan. In fact, this is one of the essentials of collective impact (shared measurement).
Indicators should be evidenced-based and aligned with your vision, but also realistic from a data collection perspective. Give thought as to how these are collected and reported to the community moving forward. Stakeholders that provide data into this effort should have a say in what is being collected and how it’s interpreted for wider audiences, particularly when it impacts funding allocation.
Nevertheless, such targets and indicators should be included in your plan. Here are some examples of plan targets: note they are very specific and build on each other. It goes without saying that these are developed using the research and analysis you have undertaken, versus ‘being pulled out of thin air.’ In fact, you should be able to provide a description of the methods used and rationale for coming up with the targets in the first place.
- House 123 youth in shelters to bring their average length of stay in shelters from 20 to 12 days by 2019;
- House 15 youth sleeping rough who are not connected to shelters, eliminating youth street homelessness by 2018.
Meeting Targets 1 and 2 would eliminate shelter use and rough sleeping among youth in the community by 2019.
- Develop targeted prevention, diversion and rapid rehousing measures to stem the flow into homelessness for 500 vulnerable youth by 2020.
Here are some more examples of performance measures that indicate progress on youth homelessness is being made by an optimized homeless youth-serving system. 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.
Once you have a draft of the plan, consider how you will release the final document to the community. Many communities organize launch events, celebrating the culmination of the effort with stakeholders from across sectors. Consider the launch as another opportunity to engage with youth – including those who participated in your consultation; youth can take active roles in planning and hosting the launch.
Involve media and politicians, leveraging it as an opportunity to raise awareness about youth homelessness broadly. You can be creative in your launch event design; consider how you can effectively engage youth, for instance, in the design and delivery of the event.
Prepare communication materials that are easy to read, catchy and to the point. While you may have the full report ready, it may be more effective to launch short summary documents, briefs, infographics and use social media to get the word out. News releases are essential and you may consider hosting a media conference. Leveraging social media will be important as well; prepare blog posts ahead of time, tweets and Facebook posts. Ensure your website is updated with the plan content as well.
Your spokespeople should be well prepared with key messages and have worked through potential ‘hairy’ questions that might arise. Again, developing a communications plan for the release can ensure you are prepared.
The launch can be a part of your advocacy strategy with government, engaging decision makers in conversations about the plan during the release and in the media. Ensure the plan is shared with key departments ahead of its release, allowing adequate time for administration to prepare ministers with issue briefs. You may want to have meetings ahead of the release to connect with decision makers around plan asks and propose endorsement of the plan. Often, government and other stakeholders will respond to a plan release by noting they will review it and consider their role in various aspects of your proposed direction.
Certain plans include a detailed implementation framework that outlines accountabilities and timelines for achieving the proposed outcomes. This will be an important consideration as you develop your plan. Will you give direction regarding governance matters, for instance? How will progress be reviewed and communicated? The following chart provides a template as you develop an implementation framework for your plan.
Table 34: Developing an Implementation Framework
You may also want to consider other items that we have already touched on, though depending on your local capacity that may need to be left to the implementation phase.
Table 35: Planning vs. Implementation
Build a process for reviewing and updating the plan and reporting on progress. A strategic review and business planning process is useful to apply in the case of the youth plan in order to:
- Document learning over the past year to ensure implementation of the plan as a living document,
- Use data from research, program and housing data, environmental scanning and implementation learning,
- Seek input and feedback from key stakeholders, including mainstream partners,
- Propose focus areas to shape business planning in the coming fiscal year,
- Consider implications on priority areas of action and investment moving forward,
- Discuss system-level priorities moving forward, such as information management system implementation, shelter closures, adding capacity, etc.,
- Identify policy-level changes required to further priorities, address emerging gaps and progress, and
- Consider any risks associated with meeting priorities (i.e. inability to reach goals/targets due to factors such as increasing rental prices, etc.) and provide risk mitigation strategies.
Figure 7. 8 Plan Review Cycle
This review cycle can be undertaken on an annual or even three-year basis to ensure that implementation of the plan is consistently reviewed and adjustments to implementation are made. Ultimately, it is the linking of the seemingly mundane activities of plan implementation to broader systems thinking that is one of the hallmarks of a systems approach to ending homelessness.
For communities considering implementation options in further detail, A Way Home has developed a draft evaluation framework to be used in exploring implementation learning from communities with youth plans already underway. The Evaluation Framework (developed by Oriole Research & Design) offers useful questions that communities can use to reflect as they prepare and engage in plan implementation.
What are the critical factors and variables in the environment that need to be tracked so that the implementation plan can adapt to emergent conditions?
- What cultural, social, economic and political factors in each community influence the implementation of the youth homelessness plan?
- Which factors will likely hinder implementation efforts?
- Which factors may enhance or boost implementation efforts?
What process is each community following in their implementation phase?
- To what extent have key stakeholders and partners embraced a common vision for the plan’s implementation?
- Has the community established an effective and adequately resourced backbone infrastructure to guide the implementation phase?
- Is a responsive governance structure in place, with an advisory capacity and action groups?
- What processes and mechanisms are in place to ensure continuous and open communication about the implementation efforts and to inspire stakeholders?
- What evidence is there of partners aligning their own activities with elements of the implementation plan and seeking increased inter-agency coordination?
- How do the implementation processes and activities foster a learning culture, including opportunities for experimenting, reflecting and discussion?
What has been learned during the implementation of this initiative that might inform similar efforts elsewhere?
- What has worked well/not so well in the steps toward implementation taken to date?
- What ‘quick wins’ have you had?
- What else is needed to support implementation?
How are the communities evaluating and tracking their own implementation process?
- What evidence is there of a process and resources for local monitoring and evaluation to support the implementation process?
- In what ways are partners assisting in the development of a shared measurement system?
- What evidence is there of outcomes in the early to middle stages of implementation?
How can A Way Home better support communities during the implementation phase?
- What needs exist in your community that can potentially be addressed by building capacity through A Way Home and provincial partners?
How do we share these findings out more broadly, so others can learn from the experience?
- What opportunities exist to share the experience of communities who are implementing plans to address youth homelessness more broadly?
- What are the best ways to share the learning, products, challenges and successes of these initiatives?
At regular intervals in implementation (six, 12, 18 months, etc.) you may consider your assessment of the following in relation to the plan:
- Community endorsement of plan and agenda for change: Does there continue to be widespread or growing endorsement? A continued sense of urgency? Other comments?
- Communication systems: What systems are working well to facilitate communication among stakeholders? How are you keeping key stakeholders engaged?
- Infrastructure to support implementation of the plan: What human, financial and other resources are in place to support implementation at this stage? How have the support needs in terms of infrastructure changed since you began working on implementation?
- Evidence of partners coordinating activities to align with the community plan: What evidence have you seen in terms of reduced duplication of efforts? What evidence is there of more streamlined approaches to meeting the needs of at-risk or homeless youth? What evidence is there of outcomes in the early to middle stages of implementation?
- Plans for a process to design and manage a shared measurement system: What progress has been made toward a shared measurement system?
- Local activity to promote continuous learning: Is there evidence of a learning focus at the local level? Systematic approach to monitoring and evaluation at the local level? Do stakeholders trust the quality of the data that is already available?
Strategies to effectively Implement a youth plan, including how to identify opportunities and navigate challenges, will be explored further in A Way Home’s forthcoming technical assistance materials.