This blog post is part of our series which highlights sessions of the 2018 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. Read the rest of the blogs from the conference here.

We know that Housing First is an effective housing and supports approach for resolving adult homelessness, but does it work for young people? If you’ve been following the work of the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab, you also know that we’re looking to answer this question—through research and practice. This year at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness, in Hamilton we brought forward some of the lessons we have learned so far. 

Making the Shift is a partnership between A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, with the support of the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. Launched in April 2017, this multi-phase project is developing and testing three program models in 10 cities across Alberta and Ontario that aim to address housing precarity and homelessness for youth (16-24 years). This work underlines a monumental shift away from the current system of responding to youth homelessness through a crisis response and instead towards a system that values prevention and getting young people out of homelessness quickly—with all of the supports necessary for wellness and healthy transitions to adulthood. Thus, a primary goal of Making the Shift is to better understand what works to altogether prevent or end young people’s experiences of homelessness; in tandem with this goal is to advance the tools, resources, policies, and practices supporting this effort. (Read more about Making the Shift in our Year 1 Report here.)

As part of Making the Shift, Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) is one of the three program models being tested through demonstration sites in Ottawa, Toronto, and Hamilton, Ontario. HF4Y is a rights-based adaptation of the Pathways Housing First model for adults, tailored toward the needs of developing adolescents and young adults. HF4Y provides access to appropriate housing, including a housing subsidy to offset rental cost, as well as the necessary supports youth need to focus on wellness and social inclusion. The goal of HF4Y is not simply to provide housing stability, but to support young people in their youth and facilitate a healthy transition to adulthood. The five core principles of HF4Y are:

  • Right to housing with no preconditions;

  • Youth choice, youth voice, and self-determination;

  • Positive youth development and wellness orientation;

  • Individualized, client-driven supports with no time limits; and,

  • Social inclusion.

Through case management supports, the model seeks to shift outcomes for young people across multiple life domains, including health and well-being; access to income, education, and employment; complementary supports such as life skill building; and social inclusion and connection to communities that are meaningful to youth themselves.

If you caught our presentation about HF4Y at the 2017 CAEH Conference in Winnipeg, MB, you heard about what each of the three demonstration sites were hoping to accomplish. This year, in Bridging Research and Practice: A Case Study of Two Housing First for Youth Demonstrations from Ottawa and Toronto, presented at the CAEH conference in Hamilton, we wanted to explore the deeper linkages between the program practices and the research and evaluation components of the project. Some key questions asked of panelists were: 

  1. What led you to participate in a project that included research and evaluation?

  2. What has been process of implementing the program and the research? What have been the main organizational and systemic impacts?

  3. What makes the HF4Y program model appropriate for young people, and how does it look different than other services for youth in the community? How do young people move through the program? 

Our panel consisted of case managers and project administrators from the Ottawa and Toronto demonstrations. Panelists responded to the first question by describing the need for HF4Y programs in each of their communities. They discussed the high numbers of young people in need of both housing and support services, and the need for these services to operate by the needs of young people themselves with minimal barriers to participation and continuation. Across the board, panelists talked about the need to better understand how to best support young people in the case management work they do.

For the second question, panelists shared a number of organizational and system impacts of their HF4Y demonstrations. For example, quick access to subsidy funding was seen as especially important, given the current context of limited rental options and high rents; these funds increase the options for housing substantially. Quick access facilitates rental processes with landlords to secure housing. Direct access to subsidy funds removes barriers that hold up the process. Systemic impacts continue to unfold for both the Ottawa and Toronto sites through outreach as they link with other agencies and programs delivering services to young people. Outreach happens everywhere – in agencies, in schools, at a coffee shop. Explaining the research aspects with their community partners are key for their understanding the processes of intaking a young person into the program and the research, and what the program intends to add to extant services in community.

Relating to the third question, panelists highlighted the importance of having no time limits for young people in the program, and to teaching young people responsibility while still having fun and “being a young person.” Panelists said that building relations with young people can take time. While case managers are a primary support for young people during this experience, they look to build relations of “their people” – who do they connect with to share their woes and accomplishments? Who do they reach out to when things are hard? As one panelist shared, “The point is to develop a trusting rapport and then spread out the support for that young person.” Meeting young people where they are at is essential, as their needs can change quickly, depending on what is happening in their lives. Panelists additionally noted the importance of taking a strengths-based approach, rather than a deficit- or pathology-based approach to their work with young people; HF4Y adopts this approach in its framework. 

As Making the Shift continues through its second year, we hope to continue to grow, so that we can share the lessons we have learned to the community at large. We are certain, however, that through bridging the gap between research and practice, we can begin to do the necessary work in ending homelessness amongst young people.