In this blog, we will explore how Upstream Canada accomplishes its mission to address barriers to resiliency for youth, with the underpinning goals of preventing homelessness and school disengagement. 

Through the collaborative design of the program model and support of cross-sector partners, students are identified as at risk through a universal assessment and validation process. 

Upstream Canada relies on the partnership between schools and community organizations working towards a shared goal: “supporting youth with unstable home lives and insecure housing toward educational equity and well-being”. 

Community-focused Planning and Consultation

Upstream Canada is an early intervention initiative which targets students aged 12-16. However, it can support students until the very end of high school, depending on their needs and the resources available within their community. 

The first of two important considerations for planning is taking a community-asset-based approach. This is crucial because collaboration during the earliest stages of planning can set the program and the youth it serves up for success. Thorough collaborative planning involves meaningful and committed engagement from a variety of diverse stakeholders who each bring their own experience and knowledge about how Upstream Canada will be implemented and achieve the common goals of the community. Some of the people involved in the planning process are:

  • School staff (e.g., administrators, counsellors, educators) 
  • Case managers
  • Government staff
  • Funders
  • Organizational leaders (e.g., from partnering social services and the school district) 
  • Youth advocates/advisors  

These individuals must agree on shared objectives based on an understanding of the needs of young people and the assets of the community.

The second consideration is preparing the community for implementation. Students, staff, and families need to be informed of, and in agreement with the purpose and process of Upstream Canada before its implementation. This involves activities such as:

  • Facilitated classroom discussions
  • Assemblies
  • Posters
  • Informational letters
  • Newsletters
  • and other creative and engaging ways to share information such as school community BBQs and social activities 

Assessing Needs and Connecting Students to Local Supports

Upstream Canada’s general processes of assessments and referrals are as follows: 

1. Early identification through universal screening

Universal screening is a safe, discreet and accessible way to determine whether a young person is at risk of homelessness - even if they are not exhibiting signs that are visible to others. The Student Needs Assessment (SNA) is the evidence-based screening tool used under the Upstream Canada program model. It is a self-administered assessment tool that examines research-informed risk indicators within several categories including: 

  • Current housing situation
  • Experience with homelessness
  • Level of school engagement
  • Social and emotional health and well-being

The SNA also includes a section that focuses on the young person’s strengths and resiliency indicators.

2. Assess student needs

The SNA is administered based on the assets and capacity of the community, determined in collaboration between the partners. While the timing and format will be slightly different in each school, the general plan includes the following elements:

a. Designated Upstream staff (and/or school staff) explain and administer the SNA to students who were previously made aware of the purpose and process of the program. The students must provide informed consent before the assessment.
b. Students fill out the SNA, which consists of multiple-choice questions across the risk categories. The assessments are privacy protected and take about 30 minutes to complete.
c. A third-party assessment company provides the privacy-protected, raw data to the research team at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH).
d. The research team analyzes the data and provides a list of student numbers flagged under three risk-level categories based on a coding blueprint. This list is provided to the school’s designated Upstream Canada point person. Responses to individual questions are not provided and only the designated Upstream Canada team who have signed data confidentiality agreements have access to the list.

3. Validate the Results

Students have the option to participate in a confidential validation interview, conducted by an Upstream Canada case manager who has been trained on the principles of the program model. The case manager uses an approach that is youth-focused and prioritizes place-based coordinated care.

4. Connect Students to Supports

Students have autonomy throughout the entire process of validation. It is an important opportunity for them to provide context to the assessment questions if they wish to, so the case manager can better support them in determining the kinds of resources/supports they may benefit from. The student may also wish to involve family, friends, or natural supports in the remainder of the process. Ultimately, there are many ways the youth may choose to move forward, and there is a broad range of potential supports available. Supports can include family mediation, counselling, housing supports, therapies, collaboration with other services, and access to resources.

Upstream Canada uses a flexible and responsive service delivery model based on the needs of the young people it serves. The lead community-based organization works in close collaboration with the individual school to provide continued support and follow-up with students – as needed and agreed upon - throughout their middle and high school years. The level and nature of supports may change over time as the needs of the student evolve throughout their adolescence.

Interested in Implementing the Upstream Canada Program Model in Your Community? 

Download The Upstream Project Canada: An Early Intervention Strategy to Prevent Youth Homelessness & School Disengagement to learn more about considerations for implementing Upstream Canada in communities. 

You can also check out our previous blog, What is Upstream Canada? to learn more about the program model.

Our team has various resources in development to assist communities in implementing Upstream Canada, including an implementation manual and training resources. Stay tuned for more details.
If you have any questions regarding Upstream Canada training and/or program implementation, contact us at

Note: This blog has been adapted from The Upstream Project Canada: An Early Intervention Strategy to Prevent Youth Homelessness & School Disengagement (2020) authored by Jacqueline Sohn and Stephen Gaetz.