2020 was momentous for the youth homelessness sector. It was marked with unprecedented challenges for youth, their families, and those on the front lines supporting them. However, it was also a year that led to incredible learnings and collaboration between youth-serving programs and organizations across the country. This collaboration has had such an amazing impact on the lives of youth experiencing homelessness. 

One major contributor to this unprecedented sector collaboration in 2020 was the establishment of the National Community of Practice. Previously referred to as the COVID-19 Community of Practice (CoP) — hosted by Making The Shift as part of their Youth Homelessness Demonstration Lab (MtS DEMS) — created a place, space and time for youth agencies and front-line staff across the country to come together to discuss a variety of topics, including the importance and impact of fidelity to program models. 

Program fidelity is the “extent to which delivery of an intervention adheres to the protocols and program model originally developed”. According to Dane and Schneider there are five aspects of program fidelity:

  1. Adherence – program components are delivered as prescribed;
  2. Exposure – amount of program content received by participants;
  3. Quality of the delivery – theory-based ideal in terms of processes and content;
  4. Participant responsiveness – engagement of the participants; and
  5. Program differentiation – unique features of the intervention are distinguishable from other programs (including the counterfactual).

Another noteworthy outcome of the CoP calls was an increase in “Warm Transfers” occurring seamlessly across the country. A warm transfer is a “friendly referral” —  when a frontline worker speaks with their contacts at another program to see if they have space for a young person to join. This typically happens when a young person is moving from program to program or one jurisdiction to another. If the young person is accepted into the new program, the old and new worker meet with the young person to ensure that they feel supported as they transition from one program to another. 

“In 2020, we saw a lot of young people that decided to move provinces and cities and though that is not unique... the way that they were supported through those transitions and the way they were greeted and supported on the arriving end of their now hometown was very new.”- Heidi Walter, Manager of Training and Program Implementation, A Way Home Canada

Warm transfers allow youth to feel more comfortable when they arrive in their new hometowns because their new worker will already have insight into their journey and isn’t expecting them to start from scratch. Many agencies and programs that had never worked together in the past came together because they believed in the core principles of the original program model. This adherence to the program model provided youth with an understanding of the intensity and type of support they would be receiving no matter where they ended up. 

In fact, a youth who had been homeless for over a year was recently housed because of a warm transfer. In the past, this youth was unable to focus on the future as their current situation was so unstable, but now that their basic needs are being met they are able to focus on learning, and they’re looking forward to returning to school. This is a powerful example of the impact warm transfers can have on youth.

This amazing work to support youth-at-risk of or experiencing homelessness is all thanks to the commitment made by dedicated front line staff at the Making the Shift Demonstration sites, and to the organizations who joined the CoP calls each week. Their commitment has had ripple effects across the sector on a national scale and has led to positive outcomes for youth and their families. 

While it’s unclear what 2021 will hold, we hope that as a sector we continue to build on the momentum gained over the course of 2020.