Today we release The Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness in partnership with A Way Home Canada - offering the first definition of youth homelessness prevention and mapping out a proactive response to youth homelessness in Canada. It is time we stopped missing chances to prevent homelessness for young people before it starts. The Roadmap can help us get there.
Our current approach to youth homelessness is deeply inadequate: youth tell us this, data tells us this, and communities tell us this. It's time to face the following facts:
1. We are waiting far too long to intervene when young people are at risk of homelessness, or experiencing homelessness .
2. Experiencing homelessness for any length of time can have a devastating impact on health, safety, mental health, and well-being of young people.
3. Some young people experiencing homelessness- particularly Indigenous youth, LGBTQ2S+ youth, newcomer youth, and young women - experience the additional burden of ongoing discrimination and bias-based violence and exclusion.
4. Emergency responses, on their own, do not prevent homelessness, or necessarily help youth exit homelessness rapidly.
5. Our public systems are failing to prevent young people from entering homelessness.
6. People with lived experience of youth homelessness strongly profess the need to shift from the crisis response to a focus on prevention and sustainable exits from homelessness (see What Would it Take? Youth Across Canada Speak Out on Youth Homelessness Prevention (2018)).
There is also a growing body of international evidence exploring the efficacy of preventative interventions, with a recent international evidence scan providing strong policy and practice examples we can adopt here in Canada.
What IS youth homelessness prevention?
There has been some considerable confusion about what constitutes youth homelessness prevention. The Roadmap offers the following definition:
Youth homelessness prevention refers to policies, practices, and interventions that either (1) reduce the likelihood that a young person will experience homelessness, or (2) provide youth experiencing homelessness with the necessary supports to stabilize their housing, improve their wellbeing, reintegrate into community, and avoid re-entry into homelessness. Youth homelessness prevention thus necessitates the immediate provision of housing and supports for youth experiencing homelessness, or the immediate protection of housing, with supports, for youth at risk of homelessness. Youth homelessness prevention must be applied using a rights-based approach and address the unique needs of developing adolescents and young adults.
What ISN'T youth homelessness prevention?
An intervention, program, or policy cannot be considered prevention unless it provides immediate access to housing, or intervenes to immediately protect the housing of a young person. If a young person remains in an ongoing state of homelessness within a program or service, with no immediate prospect of exiting, these interventions should not be considered prevention. At its core, youth homelessness prevention is a housing-led response. A Typology of Youth Homelessness Prevention To conceptualize homelessness prevention for youth, The Roadmap for Youth Homelessness Prevention builds on the typology within A New Direction: A Framework for Homelessness Prevention. This typology offers a range of preventative activities that aim to stabilize housing, improve health and wellbeing, promote social inclusion, and contribute to better long-term outcomes for youth and their families.
1. Structural Prevention: Legislation, policy, and investment to address risks of homelessness and increase social equality. Examples include: legislating housing as a human right, adhering to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, poverty reduction strategies, and income supports.
2. Systems Prevention: Breaking barriers and enhancing access to services and supports. This includes reintegration transition supports for those leaving public institutions, such as correctional facilities, hospitals, and child protection systems.
3. Early Intervention: Strategies designed to act early and address the risk of homelessness, as well as provide Responding to those at imminent risk of homelessness and providing crisis intervention to those who have recently experienced homelessness. Examples include: effective outreach, coordinated intake and assessment, client-centered case management, and shelter diversion.
4. Evictions Prevention: A type of early intervention, programs designed to keep people stably housed and help them avoid eviction. Examples include: landlord/tenant mediation, rental assistance, emergency financial assistance, and legal advice and representation.
5. Housing Stability: Supporting people who have experienced homelessness to find and maintain housing. This includes Housing First and supports to enhance health and well-being, education and employment, and social inclusion.
In consideration of the human rights of young people, the Roadmap adds an additional legislative strategy: Duty to Assist. A Duty to Assist combines a statutory responsibility to help youth at risk with an obligation to ensure that adults in the lives of young people are able to provide supports to help youth avoid homelessness, or direct them to services and supports that can do so. A Duty to Assist is an integrated systems response to homelessness, involving homelessness services and public systems' responses, early intervention approaches, and models of accommodation and support that lead to better outcomes for vulnerable youth. While not yet in existence in Canada, it is a model that all orders of Canadian government should aspire to - federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal. In section 5 of The Roadmap, Duty to Assist: Taking a Rights-Based Approach, an integrated approach to prevention is explored, drawing on existing legislation from Wales (Mackie, 2015; Mackie et al., 2017) to examine how a rights-based response to youth homelessness could be crafted in Canada.
A Call to Action
The imbalance of investment in crisis intervention over prevention in Canada is a problem - especially for the well-being of the young people affected by youth homelessness. The Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness is put forward with the intention of beginning a national conversation on what youth homelessness prevention could look like in Canada, and enhancing the presence of policy in this area. We can no longer ignore the existing opportunities for implementing prevention policies and practices across Canada. If we, as a society, want a system that produces better and longer-term outcomes for young people, we need to focus on preventing homelessness by intervening early to support youth and their families. To ultimately sustain and end to chronic homelessness in Canada, we must prevent it from beginning in the first place.
Phase One of the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab project is funded in part by the Government of Canada's Youth Employment Strategy. The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada