We make up the collective and, therefore, have the power to make the system better for all.

There is this common assumption that the issue of youth homelessness is an isolated problem, limited to the streets of large urban centers. However, the unfortunate reality is that there is a lack of prioritization of services and support for youth experiencing homelessness compared to other vulnerable populations. We need to do better to support the systems and structures in place that are working to respond to this issue.

Most efforts and funding to address youth homelessness in Canada are a crisis response. Emergency shelters and day programs, for example, are designed to address the immediate needs of youth - shelter and food. This does little to meaningfully prevent, reduce, or end youth homelessness. When it comes to youth experiencing homelessness, managing the impacts of their homelessness has been and continues to be the norm. We often wait too long and intervene too late.  

A Way Home Canada recently submitted a pre-budget submission asking the federal government to consider a Federal Youth Homelessness Prevention strategy. This blog highlights the key ideas from this submission. 

A Brief Snapshot of Youth Homelessness in Canada

The Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey data suggests a focus on youth is vital to accomplishing the federal government’s objective of ending chronic homelessness in Canada. The survey found:

  • 40.1% of youth experiencing homelessness were under the age of 16 when they first experienced homelessness
  • 76% had various experiences of homelessness
  • 37% of these youth reported more than five experiences of homelessness
  • 84.4% were experiencing a mental health crisis
  • 42% reported at least one suicide attempt
  • 38% of young women reported a sexual assault in the previous 12 months.

These statistics illustrate the urgency of (re)investing in the well-being of youth experiencing homelessness. 

How can we strategically direct funding toward the issue of youth homelessness? 

The Issue – By not prioritizing, we risk not achieving reductions in chronic homelessness 

While Canada has made significant progress in addressing homelessness, there continues to be a lack of meaningful solutions to the prevention of youth homelessness. The lack of attention and prioritization of youth homelessness results in their prolonged experience on the street, making them more vulnerable to violence – e.g., addiction, and crime, among others. 

Various studies have illuminated the adverse consequences of allowing young people to remain homeless for an extended period; however, few communities have youth-specific strategies or solutions in place to help them transition into housing. By (re)investing and putting fiscal resources toward the crisis response, we ignore the fact that it is equally meaningful and essential to consider the prevention of youth homelessness, helping youth quickly transition into housing.

The Solution 

The Youth Strategy under Reaching Home presents an opportunity to transform how we, as a collective, approach youth homelessness. To do this, we can shift from managing the youth homelessness crisis, which puts youth at risk, to an approach that considers the well-being of young people, assisting them in safely transitioning to adulthood.

This can be done using the four key pillars of youth strategy activities: community planning and systems coordination; program and practice model adoption; training and technical assistance; and, finally, equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).

A Vision: The 4 Key Pillars of Youth Strategy Activities 

I: Community Planning and Systems Coordination 

This pillar highlights the program requirements to assist federally funded communities in preventing and decreasing homelessness. However, it does not solely place the responsibility on designated communities to act; instead, communities are also required to report on decreasing new inflows into homelessness. 
The implementation of programs and housing solutions are curated specifically to meet the needs of young people – in addition to the structural changes within homelessness, including the transformation of education, mental health, the criminal justice system, and their enhanced integration – can result in broad systems of care that meet young people’s needs.

II: Program and Practice Model Adoption 

Strategic and priority funding is given to the prevention programs that divert and keep young people out of shelters and provide them with adequate resources. This includes prevention programs that focus on intervening before a youth becomes homeless.

III: Training and Technical Assistance 

The training and technical assistance pillar operates on the belief in building capacity for prevention across various sectors through training, one-on-one coaching, program support, and facilitating dedicated communities of practice. This is the foundation on which evidence-based program and practice models can be integrated within a system of care.

Here, the work of adopting and transforming the program – through training and technical assistance – cannot be done in isolation: communities need to be supported through the implementation and the building of these new systems.

IV: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) 

Lastly, it is essential to focus on EDI when creating programs to prevent and reduce youth homelessness. There are three core elements of EDI:

  1. Community planning and coordination
  2. Program and practice model adoption
  3. Training and technical assistance 

Through EDI, this work can illustrate the intersections where a lack of EDI impacts program effectiveness and the organization’s capacity to recruit, retain, and support a diverse workforce at all levels.

Where to from here? – Youth Strategy Directives 

Too often, we wait until a young person becomes homeless to intervene. Too often, emergency supports directed towards youth homelessness focus on addressing the immediate needs of youth experiencing homelessness and not enough effort and investment is given to meaningfully prevent, reduce, or end homelessness.
While it seems daunting to envision a future where the idea of preventing or reducing youth homelessness is possible – we know it is within reach. 

The government can change the trajectory of ending chronic homelessness in Canada by utilizing a strategy of uplifting and strengthening community resources at the provincial, territorial, and municipal levels and establishing knowledge and leadership to achieve the four pillars. By taking these steps, we can change youth homelessness prevention from merely a daunting idea to something concrete and achievable.

However, this cannot be achieved without the support of our communities. It’s not enough to rely solely on the government to end youth homelessness; we must work collectively to create the change we desire to see. 

Our Recommendations: 

  • Create and implement evidence-based program models.
  • Increase homelessness prevention in communities with the proper supports. 
  • Collaborative and prevention-based approaches that support upstream efforts and facilitate sustainable exits from youth homelessness – which, in turn, requires multi-year sustainable funding.