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.
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.